First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth

Marc Kaufman
Simon & Schuster

Kaufman, a Washington Post science reporter, states: “Before the end of this century, and perhaps much sooner than that, scientists will determine that life exists elsewhere in the universe.” It’s an arresting idea, and Kaufman delivers an entertaining look at the science supporting it. Astrobiologists, who study the possible forms that extraterrestrial life may take, are “part Carl Sagan, part Indiana Jones, part Watson and Crick, part CSI,” Kaufman notes. The work requires interlocking knowledge of physics, astrophysics, biology, chemistry, and planetary geology. Microbes we’ve found living in extreme habitats once believed to be inhospitable to life—glaciers, geysers, deep mines and caves, and volcanoes—prove that we must expand our ideas about what makes something “alive.” The only reason we haven’t found life on other planets or moons before, Kaufman says, is that we haven’t known what to look. Carbon-based life is possible elsewhere, either seeded by meteorites made of organic carbon or created by vibrant lightning-fed chemistry. But extraterrestrial life is more likely to be very different from us. Taking readers from the South Pole to the northernmost tip of Norway, from the world’s deepest mines to Mars, Kaufman explores the science that may change the human perspective more than anything that has come before. n Kaufman’s website is http:// Book publicist is Alexis Welby at

Aug. 1, 2011

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