New Books in Science

Interviews with Scientists about their New Books

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episode 19: Wade Roush, "Extraterrestrials" (MIT Press, 2020)


Everything we know about how planets form and how life arises suggests that human civilization on Earth should not be unique. We ought to see abundant evidence of extraterrestrial activity―but we don't. Where is everybody? In Extraterrestrials (MIT Press, 2020), science and technology writer Wade Roush examines one of the great unsolved problems in science: is there life, intelligent or otherwise, on other planets?

This paradox (they're bound to be out there; but where are they?), first formulated by the famed physicist Enrico Fermi, has fueled decades of debate, speculation, and, lately, some actual science. Roush lays out the problem in its historical and modern-day context and summarizes the latest thinking among astronomers and astrobiologists. He describes the long history of speculation about aliens (we've been debating the idea for thousands of years); the emergence of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) as a scientific discipline in the 1960s, and scientists' use of radio and optical techniques to scan for signals; and developments in astrobiology (the study of how life might arise in non-Earth like environments) and exoplanet research (the discovery of planets outside our solar system). Finally, he discusses possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox and suggests way to refocus SETI work that might increase the chances of resolving the paradox―and finding extraterrestrials.

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 2020-04-27  54m