2021 year Reviews

Planetary Habitability

Stephen R Kane

IOP, 2021, hardback


ISBN 978-0-7503-2118-1

The topic of planetary habitability is another of those space subjects that has experienced increased interest in recent years, especially as the number of confirmed exoplanets has grown. It is tempting to think of habitability simply as ‘being able to live there’ - which NASA has tended to paraphrase as ‘following the water’ - but the author of this book suggests that “the precise meaning of planetary habitability is an extremely difficult topic and… remains controversial”.

Moreover, he gets his response to critics in early by admitting in the first words of his preface that “This book is incomplete”, adding that “it is near impossible to be all inclusive on the matter”.

Perhaps this is why he has limited his book to a couple of hundred pages, rather than expend a little more effort. In fact, the volume’s presentation style gives the impression of a collection of papers, each with diagrams, references and often equations. Thus, although the book is intended variously as an overview, guide and foundation for further discussion, many readers will find it somewhat inaccessible. Indeed, this accessibility is not helped by the liberal insertion of paper references (along the lines of ‘Bloggs et al, 2001’), often three or four to a sentence!

That said, university students and the like will be used to the style and will cope, no doubt gaining an insight into the subject that will spur them to discover more… and perhaps even write papers of their own.

Certainly, the message that planetary habitability is “a vast inter-disciplinary undertaking that combines planetary science, climate science and stellar astrophysics” is well received.

However, rather than spending so many words informing his prospective audience how devilishly difficult the subject is, the author might be better advised to try to simplify it so that a larger audience can understand it – you know, in the spirit of education.

Mark Williamson, Chester, UK

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