Cover image for Rare earth : why complex life is uncommon in the universe
Rare earth : why complex life is uncommon in the universe
Ward, Peter D. (Peter Douglas), 1949-
Publication Information:
New York : Copernicus, [2004, c2000]

©2004, ©2000
Physical Description:
xxxii, 335 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QB54 .W336 2000C Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



What determines whether complex life will arise on a planet, or even any life at all? Questions such as these are investigated in this groundbreaking book. In doing so, the authors synthesize information from astronomy, biology, and paleontology, and apply it to what we know about the rise of life on Earth and to what could possibly happen elsewhere in the universe. Everyone who has been thrilled by the recent discoveries of extrasolar planets and the indications of life on Mars and the Jovian moon Europa will be fascinated by Rare Earth, and its implications for those who look to the heavens for companionship.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Renowned paleontologist Ward (Univ. of Washington), who has authored numerous books and articles, and Brownlee, a noted astronomer who has also researched extraterrestrial materials, combine their interests, research, and collaborative thoughts to present a startling new hypothesis: bacterial life forms may be in many galaxies, but complex life forms, like those that have evolved on Earth, are rare in the universe. Ward and Brownlee attribute Earth's evolutionary achievements to the following critical factors: our optimal distance from the sun, the positive effects of the moon's gravity on our climate, plate tectonics and continental drift, the right types of metals and elements, ample liquid water, maintainance of the correct amount of internal heat to keep surface temperatures within a habitable range, and a gaseous planet the size of Jupiter to shield Earth from catastrophic meteoric bombardment. Arguing that complex life is a rare event in the universe, this compelling book magnifies the significanceÄand tragedyÄof species extinction. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.ÄGloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In the debate over the existence of extraterrestrial life, Ward and Brownlee (both, Univ. of Washington, Seattle) combine their expertise in astronomy and geology and assume the role of devil's advocate. Their "rare earth" hypothesis maintains that while microbial life is probably commonplace, complex higher animals may be extremely rare. They pose a series of astronomical, geological, and biological problems that could prevent extraterrestrial life from evolving beyond humble microbial origins. The evolution of complex multicellular animals depends on a series of unlikely events, from the formation of planets at the correct distance from a stable star to the proper balance between ocean and land surface. Once evolved, higher animals would have to survive the type of mass extinction events that have repeatedly devastated life on the Earth. Some of their arguments are based on pure conjecture (which the authors freely admit). Most theories of early evolution are controversial, and ample evidence can be found to support both sides of this argument. Regardless of how one judges the merits of their "rare earth" hypothesis, however, the authors have done an exemplary job of reviewing the recent literature on the early origin and evolution of life. Substantial bibliography. Highly recommended. Undergraduates through professionals; two-year technical program students. B. E. Fleury; Tulane University

Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition Preface to the First Edition
Introduction: The Astrobiology Revolution and the Rare Earth Hypothesis Dead Zones of the Universe Rare Earth Factors
1 Why Life Might Be Widespread in the Universe
2 Habitable Zones of the Universe
3 Building a Habitable Earth
4 Life's First Appearance on Earth
5 How to Build Animals
6 Snowball Earth
7 The Enigma of the Cambrian Explosion
8 Mass Extinctions and the Rare Earth Hypothesis
9 The Surprising Importance of Plate Tectonics
10 The Moon, Jupiter, and Life on Earth
11 Testing the Rare Earth Hypotheses
12 Assessing the Odds
13 Messengers from the Stars