on 7 January 2010
Professor Barrie W. Jones is a world expert on the orbits of extra-solar planets and of the requirements for the evolution of life, so no one could be more qualified to write a book about searching for life within our galaxy - whether it be within our own solar system or beyond. You can find the detailed contents elswhere, so it is suffice to say that book first gives a background to the Solar System and our Earth's place within it, then discusses the fundamental processes of life and its origin here. It then considers the the liklyhood of finding life elswhere in our own solar system and I was fascinated to learn how, as our Sun gets hotter and the Earth will become unsuitable for life, Mars will again become a place where life could evolve and perhaps become a "lifeboat" for the human race. Then a major part of the book gives the background to other stars and solar systems that might be capable of supporting life and the various ways in which the, now, hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered. Finally it looks at the ways that we may be able to detect, first, the presence of lifeforms on nearby planets by the analysis of their atmospheres - our Earth is unique in the solar system for showing evidence of water vapour and ozone(and hence oxygen) in our atmosphere - and secondly of advanced intelligent life through SETI - the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence - using both radio and optical searches.
Professor Jones has been involved in writing the superb course material provided by the Open University for its students so it is not surprising that the book is beautifully written in a way that makes the ideas and concepts easily understandable - greatly helped by the many excellent diagrams and colour images. Over the past few years I have had to cover much of this material for use in lectures and I only wish that I had had this book to refer to when doing so. I can think of no better book on the subject and highly commend it to you. Ian Morison, Gresham Professor of Astronomy.