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Book Review:
Distant wanderers:
The search for planets beyond the solar system
by Bruce Dorminey
Copernicus Books, 2002

Reviewed by Allen Tough
email: tough77 @

After decades of high-tech searches, astronomers are just now reaping the rewards of their hunt for "distant wanderers," the name that Bruce Dorminey gives to planets orbiting stars other than our Sun.

A veteran science journalist, Dorminey writes from the front lines of this fast-growing field of modern astronomy. He explains what has already been found and what might be found in the future. Planets, it turns out, come in various shapes and sizes. They are searingly hot and abysmally cold. Some have nearly circular stable orbits; others follow wildly elliptical paths. And some are so strange that they challenge the very definition of the word "planet," or seem to reverse our long-held notions of the roles of planet and star. USA Today said that this book provides "a short course in one of the most exciting areas of astronomical discovery."

After providing an engrossing account of the search for extrasolar planets, Distant Wanderers moves on to speculate on "some of the tantalizing questions that may be at least partially answered in the next few decades. What are the prospects of finding intelligent life around other Sun-like stars? Why do we live in a universe clumped into galaxies? Does life on Earth, in some small way, mirror the cycles of birth and death in our own Sun?"

In the end, Dorminey invites us to speculate about what all these discoveries may tell us about extraterrestrial life, about the possibility of space colonization, and about the special place of our own planet and ourselves in the cosmos.

Bruce Dorminey has written for many magazines and newspapers, but this is his first book. His well-balanced account of the 1996 Bioastronomy meeting in Capri appeared in the London-based Financial Times. I recall meeting Bruce the day before that meeting began. Wearing a conspicuous SETI League t-shirt, I was shopping for groceries. An earnest but friendly young man stopped me on the busy street and said, "You must be here for the Bioastronomy conference." As we talked, it turned out he had written for two newspapers based in Toronto, my home city, and we had mutual friends among their staff members. Since then he has attended other SETI meetings as well, and has joined the Invitation to ETI group.

In Distant Wanderers, Dorminey says "Astronomers have a knack for picking eye-popping conference locales, so I was certainly glad I had taken Michel Mayor's advice to attend the Fifth International Conference on Bioastronomy on the Italian isle of Capri," It was at this same conference that Dorminey met planet-hunters Geoff Marcy and Paul Butler.

Since meeting Bruce Dorminey on that crowded Capri street, I have followed his career with great interest. I certainly look forward to reading further books by this talented science journalist.


Reviewed by Dr. Allen Tough, whose biography is at Founder and coordinator of the Invitation to ETI, Allen is also very active in the SETI League and has served as chair of its Strategic Planning Committee since 2000.

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