January 14, 2000
Maybe we really are alone.
That’s the thought-provoking conclusion of Rare Earth, a book that is certain to have far-reaching impact in the consideration of our place in the cosmos.
While it is widely believed the complex life is common, even widespread, throughout the billions of stars and galaxies in our universe, astrobiologists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee argue that advanced life may, in fact, be very rare, perhaps even unique.
Ever since Carl Sagan and Frank Drake announced that extraterrestrial civilizations must number in the millions, the search for life in our galaxy has accelerated. But, in this brilliant and carefully argued book, Ward and Brownlee question underlying assumptions of Sagan and Drake’s model, and take us on a search for life that reaches from the volcanic hot springs deep on our ocean floors to the frosty face of Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon. In the process, we learn that, while microbial life may well be more prevalent throughout the universe than previously believed, the conditions necessary for the evolution and survival of higher life – and here the authors consider everything from DNA to plate tectonics to the role of our moon – are so complex and precarious that they are unlikely to arise in many other places, if at all.
Insightful, clearly explained, and at the cutting edge of modern scientific investigation, Rare Earth will fascinate anyone interested in the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, and offers a fresh perspective on life at home which may be even more precious than we ever have imagined.
Peter D. Ward is Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle and is an authority on mass extinctions. His previous books include Time Machines and The Call of Distant Mammoths (both published by Copernicus), The End of Evolution, and On Methuselah’s Trail.
Donald Brownlee is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle. He leads the NASA Stardust mission, and he specializes in the study of the solar system’s origin, comets and meteorites, and the underlying subject of this book, astrobiology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.