Lecture: The 'Lucky Planet'

Speaker: Prof. David Waltham, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University London

Entry Fee

Members: Free

Visitors: £5.00

Date and Time

19:00 -

Location

Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN


Lecture Description

Humankind has long fantasized about life elsewhere in the universe. And as we discover countless exoplanets orbiting other stars—among them, rocky super-Earths and gaseous Hot Jupiters—we become ever hopeful that we may come across extraterrestrial life. Yet even as we become aware of the vast numbers of planets outside our solar system, it also becomes clear that Earth is exceptional.

In Lucky Planet, David Waltham argues that Earth’s climate stability is one of the most important factors that makes it able to support life, and that nothing short of luck made such conditions possible. The four billion year-stretch of good weather that our planet has experienced is statistically so unlikely, he shows, that chances are slim that we will ever encounter intelligent extraterrestrial others.

Describing the three factors that typically control a planet’s average temperature—the heat received from its star; how much heat the planet absorbs; and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere— Professor Waltham paints a complex picture of how special Earth’s climate really is. He untangles the mystery of why, although these factors have shifted by such massive measures over the history of life on Earth, surface temperature has never fluctuated so much as to make conditions hostile to life. Citing factors such as the size of our moon and the effect of an ever-warming Sun, he challenges the prevailing scientific consensus that other Earth-like planets have natural stabilizing mechanisms that allow life to flourish.

A lively exploration of the stars above and the ground beneath our feet, Lucky Planet seamlessly weaves the story of Earth and the worlds orbiting other stars to give us a new perspective of the surprising role chance plays in our place in the universe.



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