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Book Reviews


The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe
Author: Chris Impey

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 978-0-521-17384-1

Price: £15.99 (Pb) 393pp


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A science without a subject matter is how critics often look upon astrobiology, but that’s doing a huge disservice to this burgeoning science. Extremophiles on Earth, the search for the origin of life on our planet, the exploration of potential habitats on Mars and the ocean moons of the gas giants, the discovery of potentially habitable exoplanets and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence all fall underneath its umbrella. Chris Impey has a lot to talk about then in this revised edition of his book.

For the most part, it’s good stuff. It takes a little while to get into, with the first chapter an unnecessary stroll through the history of our scientific and astronomical awakening, from the Greeks through to Copernicus and modern science. This is all fine, but what we really want to read about are the possibilities for alien life, and the first chapter just gets in the way.

When the astrobiology finally comes, Impey lays it on thick and fast but never in a manner that cannot be appreciated by the layman. The intricacies of life and evolution are all spelled out in clear, concise fashion; it’s quite exciting actually. It’s also startling to think that, despite this being an updated edition, it is already out of date in some places thanks to recent exoplanet discoveries, such is the pace of our progress. This doesn’t harm the discussion of astrobiology, however.

The book ends with a chapter asking if we are alone, which begins with intelligent looks at the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox and SETI, but then takes a left turn into more whimsical discussions of the simulation hypothesis, the doomsday argument and an odd undercurrent that seems to imply that technological progress could eventually be to the detriment of our species, which concludes the book on a slightly anti-climactic note.

A true popular science book, if its pages don’t fire your imagination, nothing will.

Keith Cooper

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.
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Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
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Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!
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Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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