Aliens: Science Asks: Is There Anyone Out There?

By Jim Al-Khalili

Rating: 3 stars

In this fairly short book, Jim Al-Khalili pulls together a number of scientists, some quite well known, to try and tackle the Fermi Paradox, from a whole bunch of different angles. The first section looks at the idea of alien civilisations and their place in popular culture. Then we move on to questions around what makes for a habitable planet and the search for life within our solar system, before an analysis of what life actually is and theories around how it could begin. The final section actually looks at methods of searching for extra-terrestrial life.

It’s all interesting, although the essays are quite short and necessarily brief. There’s a decent bibliography for further reading, and a suggested list of films featuring aliens, from the chapter on alien life in cinema.

I came away from this book not sure what to believe about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life (Matthew’s Cobb’s chapter on the improbability of intelligent life is both compelling and depressing), but having had a decent introduction to a number of different ways of thinking about both SETI and what life is and mechanisms that we are using for detecting it, whether that be through analysing Martian soil samples or sampling the spectra of a planet many light-years away and analysing it for traces of atmospheric gases that might be indicators of life. It’s a good primer, and each chapter is well-written and engaging, without getting too technical. Even if, at times, it feels like it could be a bit more technical.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781256817
Publisher: Profile Books
Year of publication: 2016

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