Reviewed 5/30/2005

The Life and Death of Planet Earth, by Ward & Brownlee

How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of our World
Peter D. Ward
Donald Brownlee
New York: Times Books, 2002




ISBN 0-8050-6781-7 240p. HC/BWI $25.00


Page 12: "...even the Earth that we take for granted today is a temporary phenomena..."
  Error of number: S/B "phenomenon".
Page 33: "Water is also a remarkable solvent that erodes to create soil, temper atmosphere, and works as a happy medium for the chemical reactions necessary to sustain life."
  Missing word: S/B "that erodes rock to create soil".
Page 34: "The second criteria for life was the brisk heat of the planet's interior."
  Error of number: S/B "criterion".
Page 36: "They have no complex membranes in the cell, and for locomotion have, at most, simple flagellum."
  Error of number: S/B "simple flagella".
Page 36: "So here is a lesson from an early global polluter: anaerobic bacteria was giving off a poisonous gas (oxygen) that would spell its own doom."
  Errors of number: S/B "anaerobic bacteria were" and "their own doom".
Page 37: "Like today's amoebae and paramecium, the lack of skeletons has rendered most life from this time invisible in the fossil record."
  Error of number: S/B "paramecia".
Page 42: "This test seemed to show that while some environments (such as the stressful surf habit of modern and ancient shores) showed no change in diversity through time..."
  Misspelling: S/B "the stressful surf habitat".
Pages 69-70: "The signs near our home are everywhere, once you know what to look for. The huge piles of gravel lining Puget Sound. The linear hills, lakes, and fjords that run north and south. The huge boulders left, like discarded litter, hundreds of miles from their mountain of origin. The scratches on harder rocks like gigantic sandpaper lines left by malevolent giants. It tells us that not so long ago, great rivers of ice flowed across the land."
  Error of number: S/B "They tell us" or "These signs tell us.
Page 74: "But probably no place on Earth save the deepest sea bottoms were unaffected because when the global climate changed, so did wind and rain patterns."
  Error of number: S/B "was unaffected".
Page 91: "Plate movements for the past 600 million years are roughly known, and the positions of continents during the past 200 million years is very well known."
  Error of number: S/B "are very well known".
Page 92: "Ancient rocks, when solidifying, can freeze into their composition as an indication of the latitude at which they were formed, by preserving information imparted by the Earth's magnetic field."
  Extra word: S/B "an indication of the latitude".
Page 105: "This habitable zone extends to a limit just inside Earth's present orbit—about ten million miles away, toward the Sun— to a less-understood limit near Mars or possibly beyond."
  S/B "extends from a limit".
Page 113: "...and there is an unknown but probably gigantic biomass of bacteria in soil and even solid rock that also fix carbon."
  Error of number: S/B "that also fixes carbon".
Page 113: "No longer will coal and oil begin its process of formation."
  Error of number: S/B "begin their process of formation".
Page 114: "Giant transfers of carbon between the various land, ocean, and sedimentary record reservoirs will occur."
  Extra word: S/B "sedimentary reservoirs".
Page 114: "Secondly, and more important, plants themselves cool the Earth by affecting the albedo of the planet. Plant-covered surfaces adsorb {sic} solar radiation while rock-covered surfaces reflect it back into the atmosphere where it can cause atmospheric heating."
  Does this assume the plants capture a significant fraction of the Sun's energy in photosynthesis? Even so, that energy would go to heat the biosphere when used by animals. As for the rest, any sunlight absorbed (not adsorbed, a specialised term) by plants would also heat the atmosphere. Only the light reflected (by plants or rocks) has a chance of not heating the atmosphere, because it escapes into space.
Page 122: "Yet even at this very fossil-record beginning they included the full range of carnivores and herbivores."
  Surely not the full range, gentlemen.
Page 122: "Our triumph will end in the distant future with the end of planets and loss of oxygen..."
  Typo: S/B "with the end of plants".
Page 123: "We lay back now, still fixated on the sky..."
  Grammar: S/B "We lie back now".
Pages 126-7: "There will be ecological chaos amid a dizzying evolutionary procession of forms scurrying about the Titanic's deck, all trying—to no avail—to evolve life jackets or, in this case, a foolproof method of biological refrigeration."
  The authors drop this metaphor on us out of the blue, so to speak. It is, in my opinion, a big mistake, a huge misuse of metaphor, potentially causing great confusion, an error of (what's the word? Enormous? Gigantic?) proportions. And, biological refrigeration ???
Page 137: "...even on a damp day the frigid air can only be one ten-thousandths water."
  Extra letter: S/B "one ten-thousandth".
Page 180: "Aliens beyond the nearest stars would have a much more difficult time eavesdropping because signal strength rapidly declines with distance and noise from other sources blankets them."
  Blankets whom? The aliens? Poor them! S/B "noise from other sources blankets it" (the signal strength).
Page 190: "The presence of these stellar graveyards are thought-provoking reminders that any estimate about the frequency of life in the Universe must take into account the fact that once evolved, life has a finite duration on any world. And, like the ultimate age of individuals, the life spans of life-covered planets in large part depends on a great number of factors."
  Errors of number: S/B "is a thought-provoking reminder" and "depend on".
Page 201: "The problem is not technology per say, it's the cost."
  Misspelling: S/B "per se".
Page 201: "Astronauts are exposed to potentially lethal cosmic rays from the Sun and have to survive..."
  Nit: Although it's a source of dangerous radiation, the Sun "per se" is not the origin of cosmic rays.
Page 204: "A body flying past a planet gravitationally interacts with the planet and either adds or subtracts from its orbital energy."
  Missing word: S/B "adds to or subtracts from".
Page 206: "The repeated encounters are likely to cause Earth to loose its Moon."
  Misspelling: S/B "cause Earth to lose its Moon".
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