Three great scientific revolutions have shaped our understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed the Copernican Revolution, which bodychecked the Earth as the pivot point of creation and joined us with the rest of the cosmos as one planet among many orbiting the Sun. Three centuries later came the second great scientific revolution: the Darwinian Revolution. It removed us from a distinct, divine biological status to place us wholly in the ebb and flow of all terrestrial life. This book describes how we’re in the midst of a third great scientific revolution, five centuries in the making: the Stardust Revolution. It is the merging of the once-disparate realms of astronomy and evolutionary biology, and of the Copernican and Darwinian Revolutions, placing life in a cosmic context. This book takes readers on a grand journey that begins on the summit of California’s Mount Wilson, where astronomers first realized that the universe is both expanding and evolving, to a radio telescope used to identify how organic molecules—the building blocks of life—are made by stars. It’s an epic story told through a scientific cast that includes some of the twentieth century’s greatest minds—including Nobel laureate Charles Townes, who discovered cosmic water—as well as the most ambitious scientific explorers of the twenty-first century, those racing to find another living planet. Today, an entirely new breed of scientists—astrobiologists and astrochemists—are taking the study of life into the space age. Astrobiologists study the origins, evolution, and distribution of life, not just on Earth, but in the universe. Stardust science is filling in the missing links in our evolutionary story, ones that extend our family tree back to the stars.
"Our ancestors are stars in this ‘extreme genealogy,’ which follows the history of discoveries that blossomed into a new field. . . . Berkowitz gracefully chronicles the work and passion of physicists, chemists, and other ‘stardust scientists’ who probe the universe for signs of life." -Scientific American
"An engaging, lively discussion of the astronomy and biology underpinning the new sciences of astrochemistry and astrobiology.... A pleasurable read.... Highly recommended." -Choice
"[An] intriguing look at . . . ‘stardust science,’ a surprising blend of astronomy and evolutionary biology. . . . With an engaging tone and accessible science, Berkowitz shows how the current search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars could also reveal [other life-forms] born of the same dust that made us." -Publishers Weekly
"With a delightfully readable style, Berkowitz illuminates the greatest scientific story of our time: the search for humanity’s origin and place in the cosmos." -Steven J. Dick, former NASA chief historian and author of Life on Other Worlds
"In [t]his lively and meticulous book, Berkowitz tells the incredible story of how we’re discovering our true cosmic origins—reflected in every atom, molecule, and grain of matter in the universe. Read it and you’ll never look at the night sky, or yourself, the same way again." -Dr. Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University and author of Gravity’s Engines