By Stuart Ross Taylor
The discovery of other solar systems has engendered a growing confidence among the public that life exists elsewhere in the universe. However, all the evidence gathered from the few planets that have been studied suggests that they are inhospitable places. The planets tend to be giant gassy planets, similar to Jupiter, or they orbit so close to their stars that the surface temperature is searing. Hence, having established the existence of other solar systems, scientists are now beginning to ask whether it is possible that any of these other solar systems resemble our own, and whether they might be conducive to life. In “Destiny or Chance”, Stuart Ross Taylor, an Emeritus Professor at the National University of Australia, explains the current understanding of how our own solar system was formed, in order to evaluate whether similarly fertile solar systems are inevitable or whether we inhabit an exceptional solar system, a fluke that was the result a series of extraordinary coincidences.
“Destiny or Chance” is derived from a more scholarly text by Taylor, “Solar System: A New Perspective”, and to a large extent he succeeds in reworking his ideas into an accessible and readable format. In particular, he includes numerous historical tit bits and a multitude of marvellous facts and figures – some meteorites contain diamond clusters of only 25 atoms, small enough to form the stones if bacteria wore engagement rings.