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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is there life on Mars?, 11 Jan 2014
This review is from: Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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Written by a professor from the University of Washington, this is a very good primer in the area of astrobiology (older readers may remember when this was called exobiology, and Catling takes some time to explain the history of the science and its name and focus changes). Catling does nothing less than explain the origins of life (taking time to weigh up competing theories) on Earth, going back to how the world was formed and explaining timescales, in order to frame what current expectations are for life developing on other planets. He then uses this criteria to assess the probabilities of life in the solar system and beyond, and to talk about the theories around extra-terrestrial life (such as the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Fermi paradox). In this sense it is an excellent explanation of how life is believed to have developed on the planet, and presents some useful texts for if you want to explore the field further. What it doesn't do is become too speculative. Catling is quick to dismiss the likelihood of silicon-based lifeforms existing using science to back this up and bases most of his suppositions on existing evidence, he doesn't posit what "weird life" (to use his term) would look like on the moons of Jupiter or beyond, so those looking for ideas about truly alien life won't find it here. Not that that matters, the book is highly readable, explaining scientific concepts succinctly and engagingly.
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