The Planet Factory
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
Do you know what an “exoplanet” is? I didn’t know, either, until I read this book, The Planet Factory. An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System that orbits a star, the way the Earth orbits the Sun. An “exomoon” is a moon that orbits an exoplanet. So far, there have been more than 5,000 exoplanets located and identified. The search for exoplanets has exploded in the past ten years due to advanced technology and bigger, stronger telescopes.
Planet scientists are always hoping to find a planet that is sufficiently Earth-like. The search for such planets reveals just how unique and unusual the Earth is. So far, no exoplanets have been discovered that are significantly like the Earth. All the elements that combine to make the Earth the perfect spot for life to proliferate are just not that easy to find.
When it comes to space and space travel, the main thing people want to know is whether or not there is life outside of the Earth and, if so, what kind of life. Is there plant life on other planets? Animal life? If there a possibility we will ever encounter a race of beings on other planets with a technology advanced enough to recognize our own and respond in kind?
Outside our own little Solar System of eight planets orbiting the Sun (there used to be nine planets, but Pluto was demoted to a non-planet), are unimagined vastnesses of space. There are potentially billions of planets that might harbor life. The problem is that they are so far away that they are too difficult to observe. At the current rate of space travel, it would take us about 700,00 years to travel four lightyears. (A lightyear is the distance light travels in one year.) We need to figure out a way to circumvent the laws of physics to travel much, much faster than we do now.
The Planet Factory is not an easy book to read for the non-scientific reader. It’s full of statistics, measurements, distances, technical terms, and scientific data. Some of it is extremely interesting, such as the material about Jupiter’s moons and the search for life on other planets. I read every word but didn’t grasp a lot of it. I slogged ahead, though, and made my way through the entire book. I was glad to get to the end.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp