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5.0 out of 5 stars
A must-have for planet hunters, 29 Aug 2011
I am a professor of astronomy specializing in ground-based searches for transiting exoplanets, and I teach a number of undergraduate courses in stellar and exoplanetary science. I were allowed access to only one book on the subject of extra-solar planets, Michael Perryman's "Exoplanet Handbook" is a contender that would be very hard to beat. The book documents the whirlwind development of this newly-emergent and energetic new field of science, providing a comprehensive historical guide to the academic literature in the field as it stood at the end of 2010. It is also a compendium of essential physical concepts, useful formulae and computational strategies for analysis of the various types of astronomical data used to discover and characterise exoplanets.
Throughout the book, clear and succinct descriptions of the underlying physics illuminate the key equations in the planet-hunter's armoury. Perryman follows the advances and setbacks encountered by the army of academics, postdocs and grad students who have driven the whole enterprise, by binding their individual contributions to the refereed journal literature into an engaging narrative woven around the essential physics. Remarkably, the 2000 or so papers referenced in the book's 70-page bibliography represent about one-third of the 6000 articles that have documented the advance of the field over the last 15 years.
Perryman reviews the development of exoplanetary science at a level of detail that is perfectly suited to the needs of advanced undergraduates or newly-graduated students embarking on a research career in this field. Each of the book's opening chapters documents the underlying physical theory and observational techniques for each of the main discovery methods in turn: radial velocities, astrometry, gravitational microlensing, transits and direct imaging. A chapter on stellar physics and asteroseismology drives home the message that intimate knowledge of the host star is central to our understanding of the age and primordial elemental composition of any planetary system. The ensuing chapter on the formation and evolution of planetary systems illustrates the complex interplay of chemistry and dynamics that determines the final architecture of a star and its planets. In the final two chapters, Perryman outlines our present theoretical understanding of the interiors and atmospheres of planets and the conditions for planetary habitability, then turns back to look at the processes that have shaped our own solar system in the light of the lessons learned from the study of alien planetary-system architectures.
I recommend this book to advanced undergraduates studying exoplanetary science as part of a modular degree course. It provides a salutary reminder that all the relevant disciplines from orbital dynamics through stellar and planetary structure to asteroseismology are interconnected: university degree courses may be modular, but science isn't. For researchers starting out at PhD level, the book's panoramic overview of the literature in this field is without parallel. For more established researchers seeking to establish the feasibility of a new idea for a telescope proposal or grant application, the building-blocks for the essential back-of-the-envelope calculations are all here, in the places where you expect to find them. This aspect of the work will ensure its lasting usefulness - the hard binding is a wise choice, as I expect to consult it frequently for many years to come.
Perryman tells the tale of this youthful and burgeoning field of astrophysics from his authoritative viewpoint as one of its leading protagonists. For the old dogs, Perryman's thumbnail portraits of the capabilities of past and future instruments, both ground-based and space-based, give a clear strategic overview of what has worked best in the past, and of what the future might hold. As we struggle to maintain the pace of discovery in difficult economic times, this well-balanced and comprehensive overview is likely to prove invaluable to decision-makers seeking to maximise scientific return on investment in new-generation space missions and giant ground-based telescopes.