In recent years, scientists at the frontiers of biology have hypothesized the existence of life-forms that can only be called "weird": organisms that live off acid rather than water, microbes that thrive at temperatures and pressure levels so extreme that their cellular structures should break down, perhaps even organisms that reproduce without DNA.
The search for these strange life-forms spans the universe, from rock surfaces in the American southwest and hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor to Martian permafrost, the ammonia oceans of Jupiter's moons, the hydrogen-rich atmospheres of giant planets, the exotic ices on comets, the crusts of neutron stars, and the vast reaches of space itself.
David Toomey brings us into the world of the researchers who have devoted their careers to "weird life," and as they envision and discover ever stranger organisms here on earth, they open up fascinating possibilities for the discovery of life in the rest of the universe.
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"Starred Review. An ingenious overview of anything that might be alive. The author remains true to science while coming to delightfully bizarre conclusions." - Kirkus
"Starred Review. This title would be an excellent supplement to a physical science course and will be perfect for curious readers with humanities or social science backgrounds. It is far superior to the average "quirky science" works." - Library Journal
"Physicists and astronomers have speculated that alien life might arise near black holes and neutron stars, or even as intelligent clouds of interstellar dust. In Weird Life David Toomey conveys these far-out theories with precision and humor -- including the theory that a "shadow biosphere" of weird organisms might thrive right here on Earth." - The New York Times.
"As English professor Toomey tracks the work of scientists who hunt for such extreme examples, he explores the very definition of life. He also envisions the truly weird life-forms that might exist elsewhere in the universe--such as bacteria that ride on icy comets or even "living" networks of charged dust grains that circle black holes and communicate with one another electromagnetically." - Scientific American, recommended.
"At least 30 billion species have inhabited Earth, David Toomey tells us - each extraordinary in some way, like the extremophile bacteria that cluster at sea-floor vents. Yet all arose from a single ancestor. Toomey leads us into a speculative world of life outside that singular club. We visit the "shadow biosphere" of as-yet-only-imagined microbes posited by astrobiologists; the possibility of microbial life in Venusian clouds; doppelgangers in the multiverse; and much, much more. Weird indeed, and not a little wonderful." - Nature.
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David Toomey is an associate professor of English and director of the Professional Writing and Technical Communication Program at the University of Massachusetts?Amherst. He lives in Amherst.
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