Life beyond Earth


Athena Coustenis and Thérèse Encrenaz
Cambridge University Press
2013 | 287pp | £19.99
ISBN 9781107026179
Reviewed by Martin McCoustra
http://rsc.li/CW_140404
 
How was the chemical soup from which life evolved synthesised? What conditions are necessary to support life? Is there life elsewhere in our solar system or in our galaxy? These are the big philosophical questions for chemistry. 
 
This small and very readable book – from two of the leading astrophysicists in Europe, actively engaged in extending our understanding of potentially habitable planetary environments – seeks to address these big questions, at least in part. 
 
After a short introductory chapter reviewing the origins and characteristics of the solar system, the second chapter addresses the key questions of the definition of life and its chemical and biological evolution. 
 
The chemistry content is limited but presented enthusiastically by the authors within the framework of the questions they seek to address. That enthusiasm continues throughout the text as the authors review the primordial evolution of the inner rocky planets so intimately linked to the process of radiative forcing (the greenhouse effect) before extending their view outwards and considering the potential for life in liquid water environments on the tidally warmed moons of the gas and ice giants. Finally, their gaze extends further still, to explain the detection and observation of exoplanets. These final chapters present a nice introduction to the astronomical techniques used to detect exoplanets including the nature of their observational bias. It also sets the scene for the goal of observing exoplanets, their atmospheres and the search for biosignatures. 
 
It is hard to say exactly who would most appreciate this introductory text. In my view, this would be a good base for a short course on astrobiology as opposed to astrochemistry. The observational content is well written and clearly explained in a most readable fashion for the non-expert. This book could provide an excellent counter-balance to more chemically and biologically motivated texts with a similar theme.
 
Purchase Life beyond Earth from Amazon.co.uk
 

Related Content

The Earth as a cradle for life

13 February 2014 Review

news image

Mother Earth

The ascent of molecules

23 July 2013 Premium contentFeature

news image

Life’s molecular origins may not be preserved in fossils but Laura Howes finds out that chemists are filling the gaps

Most Read

Sun rises on new solar route to hydrogen

27 February 2015 Research

news image

Photocatalyst has solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency of 2% and points way to cheap production of the gas

The mothers of invention

24 February 2015 Managing Change

news image

Nina Notman profiles four researchers successfully balancing an academic career with family life

Most Commented

Sun rises on new solar route to hydrogen

27 February 2015 Research

news image

Photocatalyst has solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency of 2% and points way to cheap production of the gas

Hepatitis C drug patent challenged in Europe

19 February 2015 Business

news image

Campaign group says Gilead’s expensive blockbuster sofosbuvir is not innovative enough to warrant a patent