Celebrating Off-Earth Day

Exploring the possibility of life off Earth

Now that Earth Day has come and gone, we turn our attention to the next frontier for Off-Earth Day: the universe, exoplanets, extraterrestrial life, and beyond. What might life look like beyond our planet? Discover books below that will help you understand what our future may hold as we venture to new worlds. 

Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space by Erika Nesvold

We’ve pinpointed the destination, refined the technology, designed the habitat, outfitted our space residents. Are we forgetting something? A timely reminder that it’s not just rocket science, this thought-provoking book explores the all-too-human issues raised by the prospect of settling in outer space. It’s worth remembering, Erika Nesvold suggests, that in making new worlds, we don’t necessarily leave our earthly problems behind. Accordingly, her work highlights the complex ethical challenges that accompany any other-worldly venture—questions about the environment, labor rights, and medical ethics, among others.

“This well-researched and accessible book is for general readers or those interested in the philosophy of science or the ethics of space travel.” —Library Journal

The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds by Christopher E. Mason

Inevitably, life on Earth will come to an end, whether by climate disaster, cataclysmic war, or the death of the sun in a few billion years. To avoid extinction, we will have to find a new home planet, perhaps even a new solar system, to inhabit. In this provocative and fascinating book, Christopher Mason argues that we have a moral duty to do just that. As the only species aware that life on Earth has an expiration date, we have a responsibility to act as the shepherd of life-forms—not only for our species but for all species on which we depend and for those still to come. Mason argues that the same capacity for ingenuity that has enabled us to build rockets and land on other planets can be applied to redesigning biology so that we can sustainably inhabit those planets. And he lays out a 500-year plan for undertaking the massively ambitious project of reengineering human genetics for life on other worlds.

“Mason is serious. His new book, The Next 500 Years, maps out in detail how we’ll do it.” —BBC Science Focus

Worlds Without End: Exoplanets, Habitability, and the Future of Humanity by Chris Impey

Planet Earth, it turns out, may not be the best of all possible worlds—and lately humanity has been carelessly depleting resources, decimating species, and degrading everything needed for life. Meanwhile, human ingenuity has opened up a vista of habitable worlds well beyond our wildest dreams of outposts on Mars. Worlds without End is an expertly guided tour of this thrilling frontier in astronomy: the search for planets with the potential to host life. From the definition of habitability to the changing shape of space exploration—as it expands beyond the interests of government to the pursuits of private industry—Worlds without End shows us the science, on horizons near and far, that may hold the answers.

“For anyone interested in the search for life beyond Earth, this is the essential book.” —Seth Shostak, SETI Institute; author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter

An Infinity of Worlds: Cosmic Inflation and the Beginning of the Universe by Will Kinney

In the beginning was the Big Bang: an unimaginably hot fire almost fourteen billion years ago in which the first elements were forged. The physical theory of the hot nascent universe—the Big Bang—was one of the most consequential developments in twentieth-century science. And yet it leaves many questions unanswered: Why is the universe so big? Why is it so old? What is the origin of structure in the cosmos? In An Infinity of Worlds, physicist Will Kinney explains a more recent theory that may hold the answers to these questions and even explain the ultimate origins of the universe: cosmic inflation, before the primordial fire of the Big Bang.

“Kinney takes on some of the most controversial issues of current research and treats them with uncommon subtlety and nuance. An excellent read.” —Brian Greene, Columbia University; author of The Elegant Universe

First Dawn: From the Big Bang to Our Future in Space by Roberto Battiston

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the horizon of our knowledge about the universe has expanded to encompass the infinitesimally small—and the infinitely vast. In First Dawn, physicist Roberto Battiston takes readers on a journey through space and time, to the boundaries of our knowledge and beyond. From the violence of the Big Bang and the birth of the first star, hundreds of millions of years later, to the emergence of our solar system, the dawn of life on Earth, and the possibility of life on other planets, Battiston maps what we know about the universe and how we came to know it—cautioning us, however, that what we know is a minuscule fraction of what there is to know.

“Battiston’s book presents a useful synthesis across multiple scientific disciplines to arrive at a definition and general outline of cosmology, which is both timely and of great interest.”Library Journal

Extraterrestrials by Wade Roush

Everything we know about how planets form and how life arises suggests that human civilization on Earth should not be unique. We ought to see abundant evidence of extraterrestrial activity—but we don’t. Where is everybody? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, science and technology writer Wade Roush examines one of the great unsolved problems in science: is there life, intelligent or otherwise, on other planets?

“A handy, easy-to-read guide to what E.T. might look like, and how we’re going about finding him.” —Daily Beast

Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative by Ariel Ekblaw

As Earthlings, we stand on the brink of a new age: the Anthropocosmos—an era of space exploration in which we can expand humanity’s horizons beyond our planet’s bounds. And in this new era, we have twin responsibilities, to Earth and to space; we should neither abandon our own planet to environmental degradation nor litter the galaxy with space junk. This fascinating and generously illustrated volume—designed by MIT Media Lab researcher Sands Fish—presents space technology for this new age: prototypes, artifacts, experiments, and habitats for an era of participatory space exploration.

Into the Anthropocosmos provides an insightful and comprehensive yet easy-to-understand summary of the complex science required to establish an interplanetary species.” —Scott Kelly, retired NASA astronaut; author of Endurance

Explore more MIT Press books on space and astronomy