Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own

Front Cover
W. W. Norton & Company, Feb 26, 2013 - Science - 268 pages
22 Reviews

Prepare to discover life unlike any we’ve seen before.

In the 1980s and 1990s, in places where no one thought it possible, scientists found organisms they called extremophiles: lovers of extremes. There were bacteria in volcanic hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, single-celled algae in Antarctic ice floes, and fungi in the cooling pools of nuclear reactors.

But might there be life stranger than the most extreme extremophile? Might there be, somewhere, another kind of life entirely? In fact, scientists have hypothesized life that uses ammonia instead of water, life based not in carbon but in silicon, life driven by nuclear chemistry, and life whose very atoms are unlike those in life we know. In recent years some scientists have begun to look for the tamer versions of such life on rock surfaces in the American Southwest, in a “shadow biosphere” that might impinge on the known biosphere, and even deep within human tissue. They have also hypothesized more radical versions that might survive in Martian permafrost, in the cold ethylene lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan, and in the hydrogen-rich atmospheres of giant planets in other solar systems. And they have imagined it in places off those worlds: the exotic ices in comets, the vast spaces between the stars, and—strangest of all—parallel universes.

Distilling complex science in clear and lively prose, David Toomey illuminates the research of the biological avant-garde and describes the workings of weird organisms in riveting detail. His chapters feature an unforgettable cast of brilliant scientists and cover everything from problems with our definitions of life to the possibility of intelligent weird life. With wit and understanding that will delight scientists and lay readers alike, Toomey reveals how our current knowledge of life forms may account for only a tiny fraction of what’s really out there.

  

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
6
4 stars
9
3 stars
4
2 stars
3
1 star
0

Review: Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own

User Review  - Nick Blood - Goodreads

I read this book in two sittings, about 4 months apart, so it may not be the most accurate recollection. Writing style and accessibility: The first thing to say about Toomey's writing is that it's ... Read full review

Review: Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own

User Review  - Eric Jackson - Goodreads

Fascinating read all around. The first chapters posed a number of different biologies, but never went into great technical detail (I'll be purchasing the text version to get the bibliography) The last ... Read full review

Contents

extremophiles
1
A shadow biosphere
32
Defining Life
61
starting from scratch
99
Life from Comets Life on stars
123
intelligentWeird Life
165
Weird Life in the multiverse
179
epilogue
218
Notes
229
Works Cited
241
index
257
179
263
Copyright

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2013)

David Toomey is an associate professor of English and director of the Professional Writing and Technical Communication Program at the University of Massachusetts−Amherst. He lives in Amherst.

Bibliographic information