Alone in the Universe : Why Our Planet is Unique

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 12/20/2011
  • Publisher: Wiley
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The acclaimed author of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat searches for life on other planets Are we alone in the universe? Surely amidst the immensity of the cosmos there must be other intelligent life out there. Don't be so sure, says John Gribbin, one of today's best popular science writers. In this fascinating and intriguing new book, Gribbin argues that the very existence of intelligent life anywhere in the cosmos is, from an astrophysicist's point of view, a miracle. So why is there life on Earth and (seemingly) nowhere else? What happened to make this planet special? Taking us back some 600 million years, Gribbin lets you experience the series of unique cosmic events that were responsible for our unique form of life within the Milky Way Galaxy. Written by one of our foremost popular science writers, author of the bestselling In Search of Schrödinger's Cat Offers a bold answer to the eternal question, "Are we alone in the universe?" Explores how the impact of a "supercomet" with Venus 600 million years ago created our moon, and along with it, the perfect conditions for life on Earth From one of our most talented science writers, this book is a daring, fascinating exploration into the dawning of the universe, cosmic collisions and their consequences, and the uniqueness of life on Earth.

Author Biography

JOHN GRIBBIN is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books including In Search of the Multiverse (Wiley), In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xi

Preface: The Only Intelligent Planet xiii

Introduction: One in a Trillion 1
Across the Milky Way; Hot jupiters; Planets in profusion; Dusty beginnings; Cosmic chemistry; The life of Gaia; Searching for other Gaias

1. Two Paradoxes and an Equation 26
The cosmic lottery and the Drake equation; The inspection paradox and the Copernican principle; Panspermia and the Fermi paradox; Probing for an answer

2. What's So Special about Our Place in the Milky Way? 55
Making galaxies; Making metals; Mixing metals in the Milky Way; Our place in the Milky Way; The Galactic Habitable Zone; Catastrophic comets

3. What's So Special about the Sun? 80
The narrow zone of life; The Sun is not an average star; Perturbing partners; Blasts from the past; The mystery of solar metallicity; Until the Sun dies; Postponing Doomsday

4. What's So Special about the Solar System? 100
Too hot to handle; The geography of the Solar System; Making planets; Making the Solar System; Making the Earth; The special one

5. What's So Special about the Earth? 126
Like a diamond in the sky; A planetary jigsaw puzzle; Creating continents; A fi eld of force; Venus and Mars; A planetary stabilizer; Plate tectonics and life

6. What's So Special about the Cambrian Explosion? 151
I. Contingency and Convergence
The Cambrian explosion; The Burgess Shale; Contingency; Convergence; The third way

7. What's So Special about the Cambrian Explosion? 167
II. Hothouse Venus/Snowball Earth
After the deep freeze; Tipping the balance; From without or within?; The archetypal impact; Cosmic clouds and comet dust; Diamond dust and a facelift for a goddess

8. What's So Special about Us? 184
Chance, necessity and the decimal system; The molecular clock; The trigger for change; The pacemaker of human evolution; The fate of technological civilization; The fate of the Earth; No second chance

Further Reading 206

Index 211

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