Read First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth by Marc Kaufman Online


Are we alone in the universe? Almost certainly not. In First Contact, Marc Kaufman provides a gripping tour of the magnificent new science of astrobiology that is closing in on the discovery of extraterrestrial life. In recent decades, scientists generally held that the genesis of life was unique to Earth: It was too delicate a process, and the conditions needed to supportAre we alone in the universe? Almost certainly not. In First Contact, Marc Kaufman provides a gripping tour of the magnificent new science of astrobiology that is closing in on the discovery of extraterrestrial life. In recent decades, scientists generally held that the genesis of life was unique to Earth: It was too delicate a process, and the conditions needed to support it too fragile, for it to exist anywhere else. But we are now on the verge of the biggest discovery since Copernicus and Galileo told us that Earth is not at the center of the universe. New scientific breakthroughs have revolutionized our assumptions about the building blocks of life and where it may be found. Scientists have hunted down and identified exoplanets, those mysterious balls in the universe that orbit distant suns not too different from our own. They have discovered extremophiles, the extraordinary microbes that thrive in environments of intense heat or cold that may mimic the inhospitable conditions of other planets. They have landed rovers on Mars and detected its methane, a possible signature of past life. And they have created sophisticated equipment to sweep the sky for distant radio signals and to explore the deep icebound lakes of Antarctica. Each of these developments has brought forth a new generation of out-of-the-box researchers, adventurers, and thinkers who are each part Carl Sagan, part Indiana Jones, part Watson and Crick—and part forensic specialists on CSI: Mars. In this masterful book, Kaufman takes us to the frontiers of astrobiology’s quest for extraterrestrial life and shows how this quest is inextricably linked with the quest to understand life on Earth. He takes us deep under the glaciers of Antarctica, into the mouth of an Alaskan volcano, and beneath the Earth into the unbearable heat of a South African mine, and leads us to the world’s driest desert. For thousands of years, humans have wondered about who and what might be living beyond the confines of our planet. First Contact transports us into the cosmos to bring those musings back to Earth and recast our humanity....

Title : First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781439109007
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 224 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth Reviews

  • Tim
    2019-05-13 19:00

    Imagine the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack. Fortunately, anyone searching knows what a needle is. Multiply the strands of hay billions of times and you're approaching one of the haystacks in which those in search of extraterrestrial life are working. Yet their effort struggles with a fundamental question: How do you define "life"? As science journalist Marc Kaufman points out in a new book, the answer is not as easy as it might seem. More important, the definition ultimately arrived at could mean we already have proof that life exists beyond Earth.To say that Kaufman's book, First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth, surveys a huge range of possible haystacks is an understatement. He takes us from beneath the surface of our planet, where scientists hunt for and study "extremophile" microbes that alter our views of what is necessary for life to exist, to observatories and labs searching deep space for extraterrestrial signals or exoplanets, planets outside the solar system. Not only does the book suggest the breadth of the effort, it reveals how each aspect reveals ideas and science never before suspected.For example, there is the question of what Kaufman calls "a possible shadow biosphere." Is there life on Earth that was not previously considered life? First Contact takes us to research at an alkaline lake in California that led NASA to announce in December 2010 the discovery of an organism that uses arsenic in its cellular structure, an element that is not one of the six essential elements necessary for life on Earth. If terrestrial "life" can be arsenic-based and extremophiles can exist in circumstances previously thought incapable of supporting life, it becomes that much more likely that life exists off the planet,In exploring these investigations and their ramifications, Kaufman does what excellent science reporters do -- he translates at times difficult concepts into language those of us who barely passed "Bonehead Chemistry" can understand. This is no small feat, given that Kaufman himself was new to the field of astrobiology and, as he puts it, some of those involved in the effort use "a language that can often seem mysterious and impregnable." Perhaps due to the need to keep the information as accessible as possible, Kaufman tends to a bit of repetition. That is a relatively minor flaw in light of his approach. Whether descending into the South African mines, visiting observatories in Australia or going to California's Mono Lake, First Contact also introduces the reader to the scientists. Readers aren't left with the science and what the scientists are studying. Kaufman, science writer and national editor at The Washington Post, also personalizes the researchers and their work.This also enables readers to better grasp some of the ongoing debates about whether we have already discovered extraterrestrial life. First Contact reviews the questions surrounding whether Mars landers found evidence of life on that planet. Kaufman updates the ongoing debate that began some 15 years ago when scientists suggested their study of a meteorite from Mars contained microfossils of primitive bacteria. He also explores the scientific studies going on beyond Earth, Mars and the solar system. He explains how scientists search for exoplanets and how older instruments utilize new technology and computing power to crunch massive amounts of data to plot one or two points. Even long-recognized efforts introduce debates. Thus, when SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence using radio telescopes, makes an appearance, Kaufman introduces readers to the question of whether it is wise for us to broadcast or announce our presence to possible extraterrestrial intelligence.Even if we don't reach a universal definition of life first, Kaufman suggests we may be on the cusp of one of the greatest "Eureka!" moments in human history. Given how how broad-based the search for extraterrestrial life has become, the fundamental question may become what its discovery means for human society.(Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie.)

  • Jaylia3
    2019-04-28 21:03

    Author Mark Kaufman believes that before the end of the century, maybe well before, scientists will have determined that life exists elsewhere in the universe, and his book makes a fascinating and compelling case for it. Before they can do that however, scientists will have to determine exactly what life is, a question that is surprisingly hard to answer because it is not always clear what is alive and what is not. One example is the case of desert varnish, an extremely slow growing patina found on desert rocks that may be showing properties of life. Or maybe not, that’s still being researched. The more scientists learn about life on Earth, the stranger it seems. It used to be taken as scientific gospel that all forms of life reproduce regularly, need an energy source, and depend on having an environment that isn’t exceedingly hot, cold, acidic, alkaline, or salty, and isn’t under crushingly high pressure or full of radiation, but living things have been found in all of these circumstances. Extremophile life forms manage just fine in scalding hot hydrothermal ocean vents, highly acidic rivers, arsenic filled lakes, glacial ice, clouds high in the sky, and rocks that are miles underground. Finding life in these almost other worldly places may mean life can exist in other harsh seeming environments, like under the Martian surface or in the icy oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa. It turns out that Mars was much more habitable than Earth in the long ago days when the Earth was recovering from a collision with another planet that broke off what is now our moon. Mars became the barren landscape it is now after it somehow lost its magnetic field and atmosphere, but if some form of life was already established it may still survive deep underground, since scientists have found that life exists in similar conditions on Earth.The elements that are needed for life on Earth, which include carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, are found all over the universe, so scientists are aiming strong telescopes at distant stars looking for planets that might be able to support life as we know it, or maybe life as we’ve never conceived of it. The nebulas that form stars produce complex carbon molecules and these may be seeding any nearby planets with the building blocks of carbon based life.Kaufman is confident that there is life elsewhere in the universe, but he does a thorough job presenting the conflicting opinions and many unsolved issues of the extraterrestrial life question, including the controversies surrounding the 1976 Viking mission to Mars and whether the Muchison meteorite from Austraila shows evidence of otherworldly organic carbon. The last chapter covers the moral, religious and ethical implications of discovering that we may be sharing the universe with other, possibly intelligent, living beings. What obligations would we have to such creatures? What would they mean for the world’s religious beliefs? These issues are part of an ongoing discussion by ethicists, philosophers, and religious leaders, including the Vatican. If you follow news reportage about extremophiles, exoplanets and the search for life, this book will connect the dots and provide context to stories as recent as the “Goldilocks” planet, the new revelations about the famous “primordial soup” experiments, and the microbes found with high levels of arsenic in Mono Lake, California. First Contact is so irresistibly interesting I found myself reading the best parts aloud to whoever happened to be around me at the time.

  • Joe
    2019-04-23 21:54

    I don't know what this book was missing but it felt... incomplete. The author does a good job summarizing the usual topics such as planet hunting, SETI, the Murchison meteorite, panspermia, the anthropic principle, and extremophiles. He makes it even more engaging with a wide variety of interviews with primarily astronomers and exobiologists and it's all very interesting. I was just surprised I could be so ambivalent while reading about the most important scientific endeavor humanity will probably ever undertake.I think I would have liked to hear more about plans for the future, particularly some details on the proposals for things like submersibles for Europa or sample return missions like the (failed) Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Instead, most of what the author focused on was the history of exobiology — which wasn't bad, just not riveting.If you know nothing about exobiology, this would be a good place to start. Otherwise, I think there are better resources... somewhere out there.

  • Kili
    2019-05-12 21:41

    This book is written for the interested nonscientist. Because of this, some parts are so poorly explained to be gratuitous, such as the part on multiple universes. Ideas that can be easily explained to a nonspecialist are done wee, such as the discussion on Carol Cleland and Chris Chybo's argument taht the basic information for coming up with a definition of "life" is absent, much as 800 years ago it was impossible to define "water" with any scientific value. I think it did best on the description of the discovery of seasonal methane release on Mars. It was quite shallow on the conflict between Christianity and extraterrestrial life, and the section on SETI was primarily a focus on the people, with only a shallow (but long) discussion on the deeper issues.All in all, a nice popular book.

  • Chris Chester
    2019-05-03 23:01

    This was a straight-forward and incredibly interesting look at the current state of the burgeoning field of astrobiology, or the search for alien life.It sounds like a far-fetched premise, but as Kaufman explains throughout the book, most of the science being performed is firmly grounded in sound chemical and biological precedent.While the search for alien signals with massive arrays of radio telescopes is perhaps the closest the science comes to our imagination, most of the good work being done involves the study of methane on Mars, potential fossilized microbes on asteroids, and extremophiles that live in arsenic-laced lakes and in Arctic ice.Contacting intelligent life is one of the loftier goals, but more important is enhancing our certainty that it can even exist at all. The author makes a persuasive case, and has me rethinking my approach to Fermi's paradox.

  • Rachel
    2019-04-29 16:37

    Not too geeky or challenging to read late at night. Even though the topics are hefty (how do we define "life"? are we alone in the universe?), it's very accessible. Kaufman does a good job describing advances made recently and in the past 20 years, at a high level, so you can get an idea of what's going on without having to be a professional biologist or astronomer. It's refreshing to think big thoughts, "look up" from our busy lives, and realize how small we are, and how miraculous our planet (and life as we know it) really is.

  • ej cullen
    2019-05-12 16:01

    An interesting sideline in this readable book is that scientists from wide and various disciplines cannot, to this day, even agree on a definition of "life." That the newest generation of thinkers have finally accepted astrobiology and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) as legitimate scientific pursuits, and with the discovery of the existence of uncountable exoplanets within our enormous, perpetually expanding and unfathomable universe, some of which are indubitably very similar to our own Earth, sets the stage for a future filled with new wonders.

  • Anthony Bolton
    2019-05-14 22:44

    Great read. Brief, concise but exiting and immersive dip into this fascinating area of modern scientific endeavor. Written with a really infectious sense of wonder and inquiry into the process and personalities involved.Reminded me of that other great popular science book `First Light`, though not quite as great as that .

  • Simge Perçin
    2019-04-24 23:45

    If you wanna know what we've in mind for life on space, this is your book! Apparently author made delicate research , also there're some nice facetoface convos with scientists. It's so easy to read for a non-science reader such as me. I wish it was written after the Curiosity. But what can we do, science doesn't have stop points.

  • Chris Aylott
    2019-05-08 22:49

    Solid round-up of the current state of the search for extraterrestrial life. A lot of this is old news if you've been paying attention to the headlines of the past few years (Gliese 581 g, Mono Lake, etc.). What's exciting is seeing it all together in one place and realizing just how much is going on and how many scientific disciplines are involved.

  • Garry Alexander
    2019-04-20 20:43

    In conclusion, this is truly a fascinating book about the hunt for life beyond Earth. Especially if you're really interested in astrobiology or wondering about life in outer space, then this book will help you look more deeply and it can illuminate you to understand something in a new way.

  • Dennis Menke
    2019-04-30 22:05

    A great read for people who want to know about what scientists are doing to learn about extraterrestrial life. Turns out the science is terrific, the scientists are interesting, and the book presents it all in a compelling way.

  • Tony Turner
    2019-05-09 17:37

    Very fascinating read! An accessible introduction to the study of Astrobiology.

  • Lynn Litterine
    2019-05-09 18:51

    Super read, and definitely not only for science folks

  • David James
    2019-05-13 15:46

    An interesting book on the current state of astrobiology. Easily grasped and written well so that anyone can understand it. It is far too brief, however.

  • Brent
    2019-05-14 17:59

    Extremophiles. Exoplanets. Non-Carbon based life. All fascinating science and open speculation about life (however you define it) beyond earth and even here on Earth.

  • Sluggish Neko
    2019-04-21 22:06

    The science surveyed in the book is very interesting, but it's not helped by the author's dry style or his shallow treatment of the experiments.

  • Bill Kubeck
    2019-04-28 23:40

    I was going to write a glowing review, but Jaylia3 did it first. Read that review to find out what I think. :-)

  • Daniel Ginsburg
    2019-05-09 18:47

    The book is well written and while it's not one of the best I've ever read, it's remarkably good considering the subject matter and how well it flows. Deserves a permanent space on my shelf.

  • Ronan O'Driscoll
    2019-04-23 19:46

    Good survey of an interesting field of science: astrobiology. This is not x-files stuff. Nice that it mentioned Nishi Harima telescope. Wish I had known about it when I lived there.

  • Brenda
    2019-04-20 17:42

    Well, I cheated on this one by reading it online where they skip some pages on purpose but what I read of it is very interesting and maybe I will read the entire book later.