Tag Archives: Space

Review: The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies

In The Eerie Silence, physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies explores the current state of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Today’s SETI program focuses on scanning the skies for signs of alien life using large radio telescopes. Despite 50 years of effort and regularly improving technology, the search has so far proven unsuccessful. Davies’ book analyzes why this might be, and proposes alternate techniques that may be more appropriate for future SETI programs.

One of the themes of the book boils down to the fact that almost every facet of SETI is at least in part guesswork. It’s hard to search for alien life when no one has ever discovered any such life to analyze. We don’t know that the life forms we’re searching for even exist, let alone where they live, or what technology (if any) they possess. Davies expends a substantial amount of effort addressing these concerns.

Major points of discussion include:

  • Should we expect advanced intergalactic beings to have similar technology to ours? What else could we look for?
  • For that matter, what is life, and would extraterrestrial species even be identifiable as life forms as we know them?
  • What are the odds of life existing elsewhere in the universe in the first place?
  • If SETI succeeds some day, what do we do about it? What are the implications?

The Eerie Silence is part math, part science, and part philosophy. The book, as with the entire field of study, has no answers to any of the hard questions. Even so, I left feeling enlightened, at least with regard to the complexity of the problems and the diversity of possible solutions. The media often glosses over these types of sticky details, but Davies addresses them head on. Is life really likely to be abundant in the galaxy or isn’t it? Does all life eventually lead to higher intelligence? The answers aren’t clear, and for some genuinely interesting reasons. I didn’t agree with every assertion the author made, but such is the case with conjecture.

Paul Davies manages to distill complex topics down to a level which is both readable and accessible, if a bit dry at times. The book is well worth a read for those with an interest in life, science, and the universe. The content is thought provoking to say the least, and may even lead you to think a little differently about our own place in the cosmos.

Rating: 4/5

Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, former CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield shares a variety of tales from his extensive career both on and off the planet, as well as the personal philosophy that helped him through it all.

Hadfield is the kind of individual that you want as role model your children. His work ethic is exemplary, and he emphasizes the critical nature of ongoing personal education and development as key to his success. Don’t determine your self worth based on where you end up, he says, but on the effort you will put in to get there. If something is worth doing, it is worth committing to and doing well, regardless of the payoff. Perhaps not revolutionary ideas in and of themselves, but backed by the life story of someone who has embraced these principles and embodied them. Hadfield’s career is a feel good story for anyone who believes in the power of hard work and education.

While An Astronaut’s Guide spends a lot of time on the author’s attitudes and ethics, it’s by no means a self help book. The text is also a candid biography, giving great insight into the years of development that went into building the career of a star (no pun intended) astronaut. Hadfield reminisces on his youth, his time as a military test pilot, and his many additional years training at NASA before ever reaching space. We learn how the intense commitment involved can affect personal relationships and family dynamics. It becomes clear that today’s select few astronauts represent, in many ways, the pinnacle of humanity: it’s a lifestyle that demands levels of intelligence, dedication, and both physical and mental training that very few of us could hope to successfully achieve.

Chris Hadfield first reached fame several years ago through a series of educational and entertaining social media postings made from the ISS. We learn that these were motivated by his love of the space program, and, with the help of his son back on Earth, he wanted to do his part to boost public awareness and interest. The videos became a hit and internet stardom followed. I’m the kind of person who finds any story about life beyond Earth hard to pass up, simply for the curiosity and wonder they evoke. From the vastness of the cosmos to the minutia of how to brush your teeth successfully in zero gravity, it’s all fascinating stuff, and Hadfield, who flew on three separate occasions, brings these anecdotes in spades. The same attitude that lead him to educational social media carries through in his writing, and we’re gifted with numerous stories that run the gamut from the profound and enlightening to the humorous. The author is consistently candid about the astronaut experience, and these sections proved particularly hard to put down.

All in all, it’s difficult not to recommend this book. If you’re already a fan of space travel, or the space program, you will receive a bevy of stories and insights from a man who spent decades at NASA and commanded the ISS. And if you aren’t a space enthusiast yet, you might just be one by the end. But even without all of the fantastic anecdotes, Chris Hadfield is still an eminently likable and admirable personality with a lot of unique life experience to share. Worth reading whether you’re an aspiring astronaut, or just aspiring to become a more enlightened human being.

Rating: 5/5