We are living in an extraordinary age of discovery. Aftermillennia of musings and a century of false claims, astronomershave found hundreds of planets around other starssince 1995. These discoveries have surprised us and challengedour views many times over. At the crux of the astronomers’pursuit is one basic question: Is our solar system, with planetsin circular orbits, gas giants in the outer realm and at least onewarm, wet, rocky world teeming with life, the exception or thenorm? It’s an important question for every one of us. Astronomersexpect to find alien earths by the dozens within the nextthree years, and to take their spectra, looking for telltale signs oflife, before this decade is out. If they succeed, the ramificationsfor all areas of human thought and endeavour—from religionand philosophy to art and biology—are profound, if not revolutionary.What’s at stake is a true measure of our own place inthe cosmos.
In Strange New Worlds, renowned astronomer Ray Jayawardhanabrings the latest news from the forefront of research,including some of his own findings, and tells a tale richin history and personalities.