Journey to the Exoplanets

By Sean Carroll | March 5, 2012 7:31 am

My first contribution to Download the Universe, our collaborative site that reviews ebooks on science, is now up. It’s a review of Journey to the Exoplanets, a snazzy and fun iPad app from Scientific American. Teaser:

When I was your age, we didn’t have any of these fancy hand-held portable ebook readers. We didn’t have any such thing as extrasolar planets, either. Planets orbited the Sun, and books were printed on paper. And we liked it that way.

I’m assuming here I was about your age in 1992 or maybe earlier, because that’s when the world changed forever. Sony introduced a “portable” device called the Data Discman, arguably the first hand-held ebook reader. That same year, Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail made the first discovery of extrasolar planets, orbiting a pulsar with the romantic name of PSR 1257+12.

It’s been a busy twenty years. Everyone and their dog is reading ebooks, and astronomers are discovering planets around other stars (exoplanets for short) by the bushelful — 760 as of this writing, if we go by the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia. Which is why it seems perfectly appropriate that one of the first and snazziest ebooks devoted to science is Journey to the Exoplanets, written by Edward Bell and illustrated by Ron Miller.

Check it out.

  • Chris

    We had a version of extrasolar planets back then. It was called Star Trek: TNG. Of course most were very Earthlike with humanoids. Now we know, or are at least starting to know just how strange some of these planets can actually be. Who knows maybe in another 20 years we might see the chemical signatures of life on some of these planets. Wild times.

  • Bobby LaVesh

    “Of course most were very Earthlike with humanoids.”

    Yes; it is interesting. In Western films- most aliens look caucasian. I learnt from watching the godzilla movies as a kid that most aliens look Japanese.

  • Frank Furt

    In addition to hundreds of exoplanets, astronomers have apparently discovered somewhere between 0.2 x 10^12 [Sumi et al, Nature, May 2011] and 2 x 10^16 [Kavli group, preprint, 2012] UNBOUND planetary-mass objects of unknown physical state that are being called NOMADS.

    Nothing in conventional physics predicted this amazing new discovery, but one new cosmological paradigm predicted such a population in 1987 [Oldershaw, Astrophysical Journal 322, 34-36, 1987].

    With “nomads” we are not talking “mystery bumps”, no-show “WIMPs” or untestable pipe-dreams.

    This is a major discovery about the composition of galaxies and it may herald a potential shift in our understanding of nature.

    None too soon.

    Frank Furt

  • Oliver

    I can’t help but hear the review (especially the first paragraph) in the voice of Professor Farnsworth from Futurama

  • Gizelle Janine

    Funny. 2 days or so after this blog post I bought your book on ibooks.

    I'll say 14 bucks is way better than the paperback's 17 bucks. I'll have that book forever to read, (If I’m able to keep my email address safe.) along with Time and Chance. (Too bad it counts as a textbook and not a book, I almost cried at a Barnes and Noble.)

    Why I had to buy another copy? Mine was thrown out a window, 4 stories and landed in a courtyard directly in a puddle of old water. (True story, what a horrible way this universe chose to tell me time flies when your having fun.) Soooooo, ebooks are good, so are Kindles, but the one that’s even better is ibooks.

    (You know your blog distracts me from doing my hair?!?!?!!? Horrible. I have to go have a good drink today, too. If I dont get hit on I’m blaming this blog post.)

    Question: You plan on out-writing yourself again anytime soon?

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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