What are the best books for learning about other solar/planetary systems?
July 24, 2007 9:32 AM   Subscribe

What are some of the best non-fiction books out there written by legitimate scientific authors (not psuedo-science) that discuss other galaxies, and specifically, solar/planetary systems outside of our own solar system?

I'm very interested in learning more about solar/planetary systems outside of our solar system. I would also like to learn more about theories on the probability of life in these other systems, but just learning about them in general may be good enough to start off with.

I'm not looking for sci-fi, so it has to be non-fiction, and I don't want any psuedo-science "little grey men with big heads", either. I'm looking for reputable authors/scientists only, and the more recent, the better. Also, I'm not a scientist, so something that reads like a Doctoral dissertation would not be too helpful.

There are plenty of books out there on the subject, I'm sure (a search on Amazon turned up plenty), but I can't judge their authenticity or respectability online.

Does anyone know of any books that might meet my needs?
posted by jspierre to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Cosmos is pretty old but sounds like more or less the book you are looking for.
posted by uandt at 9:38 AM on July 24, 2007

Yeah, I just finished rereading Cosmos, and it holds up pretty well despite being outdated.
posted by COBRA! at 9:43 AM on July 24, 2007

Perhaps not exactly what you're looking for but try Timothy Ferris' books. I was thinking specifically of Coming of Age In The Milky Way or The Mind's Sky. The books are a bit old but he's a decent writer who's understandable to a layman reader.

Coming of Age In The Milky Way was required as a textbook in one of my upper division astronomy classes years back.
posted by elendil71 at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2007

Cosmos, hands down.
posted by vkxmai at 10:28 AM on July 24, 2007

I like Neil deGrasse Tyson.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2007

Seconding Timothy Ferris' stuff. You'll love it.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2007

Evolving The Alien
posted by teleskiving at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2007

Unfortunately, most of the knowledge we have right now about that kind of thing is at best simple conjecture. There isn't a lot of solid data.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:12 PM on July 24, 2007

Cosmos is great and all, but it's almost 30 years old now. The first extrasolar planet orbiting a main sequence star wasn't discovered until 1995, so Sagan was operating on pure speculation.

I've read a few books on the topic, and can recommend planetologist Alan Boss's Looking for Earths: The Race to Find New Solar Systems [Amazon].

and astronomer John S. Lewis's Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown [Amazon].

You could also try a Worldcat search.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:56 PM on July 24, 2007

It's not exactly what you want but Rare Earth is written by two professors, a paleontologist and an astronomer, and is focused on how our planet and its complex life came to be and how likely complex life is outside our solar system.
posted by euphorb at 6:34 PM on July 24, 2007

Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon has a funkier perspective than Rare Earth.
posted by lukemeister at 7:31 PM on July 24, 2007

I'm seconding Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Just finished "Death By Black Hole" and have gone and bought extra copies to hand out to family and friends.
posted by zap rowsdower at 9:51 AM on July 25, 2007

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