1. Planetary Habitability for Everybody: An Innovative E-Text

    From “the vastness of space” to “the insignificance of Earth,” astrobiologist Norman H. Sleep explores key topics in the study of planetary habitability in a “Web book” he wrote for a class he teaches on the subject.

    Sleep is a professor of geophysics in the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University. He developed his Web book, Planetary Habitability: The First New Science of the Renaissance, as a text for a course on planetary habitability designed for science majors and non-majors alike.

    In a forward to his illustrated text, Sleep explains that he has written the book to be accessible to readers with or without scientific training, “anyone with an interest in basic questions like the origin of life and whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.”

    The book and the course address central questions in astrobiology: “Are we alone? Is life common or rare in the universe? How do we go about looking for life elsewhere? Topics follow the historical order in which they became part of science,” Sleep says, “beginning with the vastness of the universe around 1600. We will see how imagination as well as technology limited the progress of science.”

    Sleep has peppered his text with allusions to Shakespeare (for example, the prologue is entitled “The Earth: As You Like It?”) “to establish,” he says, “an aura of the late Renaissance. Originally, Renaissance meant rebirth, the driven attempt to recover the lost knowledge of Antiquity. In the late Renaissance, the learned veered from exhuming knowledge to extending it with their own observations. I follow the path of Astrobiology from its troubled beginning as the first new science to its place in our high-tech world.”

    Anyone interested in using this text should contact Sleep at: norm@stanford.edu.