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New Book Describes the Search for Habitable Extrasolar Planets

posted Jun 28, 2016, 9:34 AM by Abel Mendez   [ updated Jun 28, 2016, 9:47 AM ]

What does it take to consider a planet potentially habitable? If a planet is suitable for life, could life be present? Is life on other planets inevitable? Even though there is no scientific evidence of extraterrestrial life, scientists continue to gather and analyze astronomical data, leading to a better understanding of what it takes to find such life and where are the best planets to find it.

Scientists Prof. Abel Méndez (Associate Professor of Physics and Director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo) and Dr. Wilson González-Espada (Associate Professor of Physics and Science Education, Morehead State University, Kentucky) just published a book describing the search for potentially habitable extrasolar planets and what are the best candidates so far. 

Searching for Habitable Worlds: An Introduction, is a fun and accessible book for everyone, from school students and the general public to amateur astronomers of all ages. The use of non-technical language and abundant illustrations make this a quick read to inform everyone about the latest news in the search for other planets that we might be able to inhabit. The book is part of the Institute of Physics/Morgan & Claypool Publishers book series called “IOP Concise Physics”, whose main goal is to make available shorter texts in rapidly advancing areas or topics where an introductory text is more appropriate.

After a brief discussion on why humans are hard-wired to be curious and to explore the unknown, Searching for Habitable Worlds: An Introduction describes what extrasolar planets are, how to detect them, and how to pin down potentially habitable ones. In addition, a data-driven list of the best candidates for habitability is profiled, and the next generation of scientific instruments and probes to detect extrasolar planets are identified.

According to Prof. Méndez, “detecting extrasolar planets is a complex process, but it is becoming easier as instrumentation and technologies evolve. Current methods allow scientists to determine their size, mass, temperature, orbital parameters and possible chemical composition. Only extrasolar planets with a unique combination of physical and chemical properties are classified as potentially habitable. It is also important to consider that, even if an extrasolar planet is not habitable today, it could have been habitable in the past or might potentially be habitable in the future. Earth, for instance, was not habitable nearly five billion years ago but it is now.”

Dr. González-Espada noted that although the book’s contents might sound complex or intimidating, it was carefully written to use accessible language and a lively narrative style that will motivate young people to study astronomy and other physical sciences. “Searching for Habitable Worlds: An Introduction presents topics in a very interesting way, with a minimum of technical jargon and plenty of visuals. At the same time, it highlights the fact that the search and characterization of extrasolar planets is an emerging discipline, and that plenty of breathtaking discoveries are yet to be made.”

Searching for Habitable Worlds: An Introduction is available at the Morgan & Claypool Publishers Bookstore, Amazon (Kindle), and other online book retailers.