In "Lucky Planet," astrobiologist David Waltham argues that Earth's climate stability is one of the primary factors that makes it able to support life, and that nothing short of luck made such conditions possible. The four-billion-year stretch of good weather that our planet has experienced is statistically so unlikely, he shows, that chances are slim that we will ever encounter intelligent extraterrestrial others.
Describing the three factors that typically control a planet's average temperature--the heat received from its star, how much heat the planet absorbs, and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere--Waltham paints a complex picture of how special Earth's climate really is. He untangles the mystery of why, although these factors have shifted by such massive measures over the history of life on Earth, surface temperatures have never fluctuated so much as to make conditions hostile to life. Citing factors such as the size of our Moon and the effect of an ever-warming Sun, Waltham challenges the prevailing scientific consensus that other Earth-like planets have natural stabilizing mechanisms that allow life to flourish.
A lively exploration of the stars above and the ground beneath our feet, "Lucky Planet" seamlessly weaves the story of Earth and the worlds orbiting other stars to give us a new perspective of the surprising role chance plays in our place in the universe.
- ISBN-13: 9780465039999
- ISBN-10: 0465039995
- Publisher: Basic Books a Member of Perseus Books Group
- Publish Date: April 2014
- Page Count: 198
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Waltham, astrobiologist and geophysicist at the University of London, addresses the pressing question: How common is intelligent life in the universe? He examines the conditions necessary for life to begin and evolve into more complex forms, along the way exploring cosmological matters, such as star and planet formation, geological and meteorological concerns, as well as the nature of life itself. His basic, unsurprising premise is that vast amounts of time are required to produce intelligent life, but he goes further to explain that maintaining a relatively stable planetary climate for the bulk of that time is both essential and rare. “If this book has a theme, it is that climate is destiny.” Earth, as he shows, has a multiplicity of factors that have yielded a stable climate and, he argues, it is unlikely that a similar combination of conditions will appear very often. There are an enormous number of planets in the universe, but only a small percentage will have the requisite conditions. Waltham’s somewhat depressing conclusion is that “advanced civilizations elsewhere are inevitable, but they will also be so far away that we will never be able to communicate with them or even observe influences they may have on their galactic neighborhoods.” (Apr.)