Synopses & Reviews
Are we alone in the universe?
For some of us, it is an article of faith; for others, it's simple arithmetic: with hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, billions of which are circled by planets capable of supporting life, there simply must be intelligent beings elsewhere in the Milky Way. Throw in the countless other galaxies, and it goes almost without saying that the universe abounds with intelligent species capable of building civilizations, right? Not so fast.
In Alone in the Universe, acclaimed science writer and astrophysicist John Gribbin builds a convincing case for the uniqueness of intelligent life on Earth. Asserting that a "habitable" planet need not be inhabited by intelligent beings, he cites a wealth of recent scientific findings to suggest that the incredible diversity of life on Earth resulted from a chain of events so unlikely as to be unrepeatable in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way.
The most significant of these events was the impact of a Mars-size object with Earth soon after our planet formed. It was this unimaginable impact, Gribbin argues, that changed almost everything about our planet. It gave us a moon, and thus tides; altered the tilt of Earth in its orbit around the sun; and set the scene for continents to drift.
A novel feature of Gribbin's argument is the suggestion that another catastrophic event occurred in our solar system six hundred million years ago. An enormous super-comet collided with Venus, scattering ice balls and dust grains across the inner solar system. A side effect of this activity triggered a freezing of Earth into a "snowball" state.
The most profound transformation then occurred among the microscopic, single-celled organisms that had populated Earth virtually unchanged for three billion years. Suddenly, as Earth thawed, complex multicelled organisms appeared, including the first complex sea animals, and life began moving onto land.
This sudden profusion of life, known as the Cambrian Explosion, marked the effective beginning of rapid evolution on Earthbut it took a disaster of cosmic proportions to set it off. Had it not happened, Gribbin argues, there would be no intelligent life here. What are the chances that such an improbable chain of events could occur twice in the same galaxy? Zero, says Gribbin.
Is there an upside to Alone in the Universe? For one thing, Gribbin says, Earth and human beings are special, after all. We are no longer insignificant specks in the cosmos but the unique products of an extraordinary set of circumstances that have as yet occurred nowhere else in our galaxy, and possibly not in any galaxy. As such, we are the only witnesses with an understanding of the origin and nature of the universe, and our home is the only "intelligent" planet. Gribbin ends his discourse with an impassioned plea for action against climate change and to restore the ailing ecological systems of a planet like no other.
The acclaimed author of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat searches for life on other planets
Are we alone in the universe? Surely amidst the immensity of the cosmos there must be other intelligent life out there. Don't be so sure, says John Gribbin, one of today's best popular science writers. In this fascinating and intriguing new book, Gribbin argues that the very existence of intelligent life anywhere in the cosmos is, from an astrophysicist's point of view, a miracle. So why is there life on Earth and (seemingly) nowhere else? What happened to make this planet special? Taking us back some 600 million years, Gribbin lets you experience the series of unique cosmic events that were responsible for our unique form of life within the Milky Way Galaxy.
- Written by one of our foremost popular science writers, author of the bestselling In Search of Schrödinger's Cat
- Offers a bold answer to the eternal question, ""Are we alone in the universe?""
- Explores how the impact of a ""supercomet"" with Venus 600 million years ago created our moon, and along with it, the perfect conditions for life on Earth
From one of our most talented science writers, this book is a daring, fascinating exploration into the dawning of the universe, cosmic collisions and their consequences, and the uniqueness of life on Earth.
The acclaimed author of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat examines the miracle of life on Earth
Are there other planets in the galaxy that can sustain life? Almost certainly so. Are any of them likely to be populated by intelligent beings? According to John Gribbin, one of today's most popular science writers, definitely not. In this fascinating and intriguing new book, Gribbin argues that the very existence of intelligent life anywhere in the cosmos is, from an astrophysicist's point of view, almost a miracle. So why is there intelligent life on Earth and (seemingly) nowhere else? What happened to make this planet special? Taking us back billions of years to a time before Earth even existed, Gribbin lets you experience the series of extraordinary cosmic events that were responsible for our unique form of life within the Milky Way galaxy.
Critical acclaim for John Gribbin
"The master of popular science."
—The Sunday Times (London)
"Gribbin explains things very well indeed, and there's not an equation in sight."
—David Goodstein, The New York Times Book Review, on Almost Everyone's Guide to Science
"Gribbin takes us through the basics [of chaos theory] with his customary talent for accessibility and clarity. [His] arguments are driven not by impersonal equations but by a sense of wonder at the presence in the universe and in nature of simple, self-organizing harmonies underpinning all structures, whether they are stars or flowers."
—The Sunday Times (London) on Deep Simplicity
"Gribbin breathes life into the core ideas of complexity science, and argues convincingly that the basic laws, even in biology, will ultimately turn out to be simple."
—Nature magazine on Deep Simplicity
"In the true quantum realm, Gribbin remains the premier expositor of its latest developments."
—Booklist on Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality
About the Author
JOHN GRIBBIN is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books including In Search of the Multiverse (Wiley), In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.
Table of Contents
Preface: The Only Intelligent Planet xiii
Introduction: One in a Trillion 1
Across the Milky Way; Hot jupiters; Planets in profusion; Dusty beginnings; Cosmic chemistry; The life of Gaia; Searching for other Gaias
1. Two Paradoxes and an Equation 26
The cosmic lottery and the Drake equation; The inspection paradox and the Copernican principle; Panspermia and the Fermi paradox; Probing for an answer
2. What's So Special about Our Place in the Milky Way? 55
Making galaxies; Making metals; Mixing metals in the Milky Way; Our place in the Milky Way; The Galactic Habitable Zone; Catastrophic comets
3. What's So Special about the Sun? 80
The narrow zone of life; The Sun is not an average star; Perturbing partners; Blasts from the past; The mystery of solar metallicity; Until the Sun dies; Postponing Doomsday
4. What's So Special about the Solar System? 100
Too hot to handle; The geography of the Solar System; Making planets; Making the Solar System; Making the Earth; The special one
5. What's So Special about the Earth? 126
Like a diamond in the sky; A planetary jigsaw puzzle; Creating continents; A fi eld of force; Venus and Mars; A planetary stabilizer; Plate tectonics and life
6. What's So Special about the Cambrian Explosion? 151
I. Contingency and Convergence
The Cambrian explosion; The Burgess Shale; Contingency; Convergence; The third way
7. What's So Special about the Cambrian Explosion? 167
II. Hothouse Venus/Snowball Earth
After the deep freeze; Tipping the balance; From without or within?; The archetypal impact; Cosmic clouds and comet dust; Diamond dust and a facelift for a goddess
8. What's So Special about Us? 184
Chance, necessity and the decimal system; The molecular clock; The trigger for change; The pacemaker of human evolution; The fate of technological civilization; The fate of the Earth; No second chance
Further Reading 206