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Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 24 Oct 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (24 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199586454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199586455
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1 x 11.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 232,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

Although this is a very short introduction, it is very comprehensive. The subject is introduced and pursued with a workman-like manner, getting down to the essentials directly. (The Skeptic, Norman Hansen)

About the Author

David Catling is a Professor of Earth and Space Sciences. After a doctorate at the University of Oxford, he worked as a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center near San Francisco, from 1995-2001. In 2001, he was appointed as one of the world's first astrobiology professors at the University of Washington in Seattle. From 2005-2008, Prof. Catling was European Union Marie Curie Chair in Earth System and Planetary Studies at the University of Bristol, before returning to Seattle in 2009. He has taught astrobiology courses for over a decade and has published over eighty papers and articles in areas ranging from the geology of Mars, to the biochemistry of complex life, to the co-evolution of Earth's atmosphere and biosphere.


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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Astrobiology - a very short introduction" was a little volume that I chose to read to close those embarrassing gaps in my science education! In so doing, I gained much although I must confess that I now think that I am also a little lacking in the chemistry and biology departments than I anticipated and need to catch up.

It was always thus, of course. For the more you study, the less you realise that you know and one book leads to another.

Written by Professor David Catling from the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the Astrobiology Program, University of Washington in Seattle, there is no question that the work is authoritative and the facts and hypotheses stated are of the highest quality. It is designed for a lay reader, albeit one with a better science background than I, and I did have to read certain passages twice to appreciate the meaning. I did, however, find myself at home with species classification and other areas where I had a fair grounding. My geology knowledge also stood me well when it came of examining crust formation and general topography and periodic attendance at science lectures assisted with the topic of extraterrestrial life.

The book itself has wide ranging coverage. We have brief information on the creation of the Universe and the creation of the planets and stars (great fun) and the Professor then looks at specifics.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the evolution of life and can now appreciate how slow this actually was. There is also a description of extinction at various periods. A happy appreciation was the fact that microbial activity developed in an anaerobic environment - yes, it had to be so.
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By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
The most remarkable thing about this book is that it has actually been written and published. Just a decade ago a book with a title of "Astrobiology" would have been squarely relegated to the science fiction section of the bookstore. Granted, we still haven't found any signs of alien life, but our understandings of the origin and diversity of life on Earth, conditions in various parts of the Solar System, and the prevalence of potentially habitable worlds in our galaxy have grown almost exponentially over the past ten years or so. That's why our speculations about extra-terrestrial life are now concrete enough that we can make some very reasonable guesses and estimates.

Even though the title of this book is Astrobiology (i.e. the study of life outside of the earth), most of the book dedicated to our understanding of the conditions and processes on Earth itself that had lead to emergence of life. Even though the kind of life that we are most familiar with on Earth might be very atypical of the life in the rest of the universe, the sheer diversity of physical conditions under which earthly life has been capable of thriving gives us hope that we can possibly find life under similar conditions elsewhere. There are, however, certain main conditions that need to obtain for any sort of life that we can conceive of to exist. Most importantly, there needs to be plenty of liquid water, or at least some other liquid substance capable of facilitating organic chemistry. Furthermore, any life that we can conceive of needs to be carbon based, as that's the only element capable of creating stable molecules of almost infinite complexity.
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I had a basic idea about how scientists have been finding various exoplanets over the last few years but this book added plenty of detail and interest. It also gives a good account of theories for the development of life on Earth and points towards some very interesting developments in the field in the future.
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