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216 × 138 mm
248 pages
3 illustrations
01 Aug 2017

Planet Hunters The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Lucas Ellerbroek

Astronomers are on the verge of answering one of the most profound questions ever asked: are we alone in the universe? The ability to detect life in remote solar systems is at last within sight. Its discovery, even if only in microbial form, would revolutionize our self-image. Planet Hunters tells a delightful tale of smart-alec nerds, the search for extraterrestrial life and the history of an academic discipline.

Professional astronomer Lucas Ellerbroek takes readers on a fantastic voyage through space, time, history and the future. He describes the field of exoplanet research in its proper historical perspective, from the early ideas of sixteenth-century heretic Giordano Bruno and the rise of science fiction to the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1995 and the invention of the Kepler space telescope.

He travels the world to talk to leading scientists in the field, including first exoplanet discoverer Michel Mayor, NASA Kepler mission scientist Bill Borucki and MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager. Presenting cutting-edge research in a dynamic, fun and accessible way, this book will appeal to everyone with an interest in astronomy and space.

‘The Must-Read Space Books of 2017‘ – Space.com

‘In this delightful scientific chronicle of humanity’s quest for “other worlds”, astronomer Lucas Ellerbroek mixes memoir, history and meetings with remarkable planet hunters.’ – Nature

‘The only planets known to exist in the universe 25 years ago were the Earth and its near neighbours circling the sun. That all changed with the discovery of the first “exoplanet” around another star; today, thousands have been catalogued. This lively volume reveals the human face of the researchers who search for the ultimate prize: proof of extraterrestrial life.’ – Sunday Times

‘Are we alone in the universe? In Planet Hunters, Lucas Ellerbroek traces the story of this question from its beginnings during the age of Copernicus and Galileo to the present day, teaching us the relevant science as he goes. Ellerbroek is particularly skilled at inserting the “astronomy backstory,” giving accessible introductions to both historical ideas and cutting-edge research, and showing how big questions are teased into empirical science.’ – Science

‘Ellerbroek examines how the first astronomers gazed at the stars – with the naked eye and then with early telescopes – and shares their thoughts and discoveries. As he does, he provides great examples to help readers understand the immense distances in space and the difficulties inherent in studying the "wobbles" of stars and planets so many millions of miles away . . . Meticulous and well-researched, but not dull, Planet Hunters is infused with the enthusiasm of the many people who have devoted their lives to searching for a potential neighbor in the enormity of space.’ – Shelf Awareness

‘The author writes in an elegant, readable style that offers sufficient technical insight for the non-astronomer, but places the scientists and their work in an appropriate societal and human context . . . The author has succeeded in bringing this exciting field to a wider audience with a very relaxed style that still pays due diligence to scientific rigor. The real appeal of the book is the human face the author gives to the pursuit of scientific knowledge.’ – Metascience

‘This book describes the discovery during the last 22 years of an increasing number of exoplanets – nearly three thousand by the summer of 2016 – and this is in itself a fascinating story . . . Ellerbroek’s book is entertaining and contains much interesting information about important new astronomical techniques’ – The Observatory Magazine

‘It seems as though we’re discovering new exoplanets regularly, but one thing we haven’t found yet is life on them (let’s be real: That is probably going to take a very long time). But that doesn’t mean we’re not looking. Astronomer Lucas Ellerbroek takes readers on a journey through the history of looking through telescopes and searching for exoplanets, discussing the discovery of the first in 1995. It’s the history of exoplanets and a search for alien life, speaking with some of the people at the frontiers of this field.’ – Unbound Worlds, ‘Best Summer Books of 2017’

‘Twenty years ago, humankind did not know whether most stars have planets or whether our Sun was unique with its array of orbiting planets. Today we know that most stars have planets (“exoplanets”), many of the planets are Earth-size, and that there are billions of Earth-size planets orbiting in the habitable zone where life might evolve. Planet Hunters provides dozens of delightful (and sometimes humorous) histories of individuals who thought and wrote about planets and life around other stars before the recent discoveries provided facts . . . Planet Hunters is both informative and a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it.’ – William J. Borucki, Kepler Principal Investigator, NASA Ames Research Center

‘Two dozen years ago, we didn’t know of any planets beyond the ones orbiting our own Sun. Since then we’ve learned that planets are as common as roof tiles. Ellerbroek has written a captivating, up-close-and-personal chronicle of this remarkable burst of discovery. Millennia from now, when the 21st century is no more than a footnote, our era will still be notable because the scientists described here opened our eyes to a myriad worlds, and quite possibly, a myriad places where life exists.’ – Dr Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

‘We are living in an exceptional epoch. Thanks to the development of technology, the ancient dreams of Greek philosophers have become an exciting field of modern astronomy. In this timely book, the characters who have participated in the discovery of these other worlds share their personal stories. Discoveries are made by individuals, thanks to their vision, enthusiasm and perseverance, and also through friendship, collaboration and competition. Planet Hunters is a lively fresco of that international endeavour.’ – Michel Mayor, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics, University of Geneva, discoverer of the first exoplanet

‘Ellerbroek is the Jacques Cousteau of the universe.’ – Jelle Brandt Corstius

‘A compelling adventure full of surprising details that show why astronomy is so fascinating.’ – Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf

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Lucas Ellerbroek is an astronomer and researcher in comets and planet formation at the University of Amsterdam. He has written a number of popular articles on space exploration and is well known for his television appearances and TedX talks.

You can find out more about Lucas via his website.