The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities


A Publishers Weekly Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2014

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus dared to go against the establishment by proposing that Earth rotates around the sun. Having demoted Earth from its unique position in the cosmos to one of mediocrity, Copernicus set in motion a revolution in scientific thought. This perspective has influenced our thinking for centuries. However, recent evidence challenges the Copernican Principle, hinting that we do in fact live in a special place, at a special time, as the product of a chain of unlikely events. But can we be significant if the sun is still just one of a billion trillion stars in the observable universe? And what if our universe is just one of a multitude of others—a single slice of an infinity of parallel realities?

In The Copernicus Complex, Caleb Scharf takes us on a scientific adventure, from tiny microbes within the Earth to distant exoplanets, probability theory, and beyond, arguing that there is a solution to this contradiction, a third way of viewing our place in the cosmos, if we weigh the evidence properly. As Caleb explains, we do occupy an unusual time in a 14-billion-year-old universe, in a somewhat unusual type of solar system surrounded by an ocean of unimaginable planetary diversity: hot Jupiters with orbits of less than a day, planet-size rocks spinning around dead stars, and a wealth of alien super-Earths. Yet life here is built from the most common chemistry in the universe, and we are a snapshot taken from billions of years of biological evolution. Bringing us to the cutting edge of scientific discovery, Caleb shows how the answers to fundamental questions of existence will come from embracing the peculiarity of our circumstance without denying the Copernican vision.

With characteristic verve, Caleb uses the latest scientific findings to reconsider where we stand in the balance between cosmic significance and mediocrity, order and chaos. Presenting a compelling and bold view of our true status, The Copernicus Complex proposes a way forward in the ultimate quest: determining life’s abundance, not just across this universe but across all realities.


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Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos


One of The Barnes and Noble Review Editors’ Picks: Best Nonfiction of 2012

Selected by The Christian Science Monitor as one of “21 smart nonfiction titles we think you'll enjoy this summer”

Selected by New Scientist as one of 10 books to look out for in 2012

We’ve long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billions of times more massive than the sun, they lurk in the inner sanctum of almost every galaxy of stars in the universe. They’re mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath.

Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely different side to black holes. As Caleb Scharf reveals in Gravity’s Engines, these chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter. Black holes blow bubbles.

With clarity and keen intellect, Caleb masterfully explains how these bubbles profoundly rearrange the cosmos around them. Engaging with our deepest questions about the universe, he takes us on an intimate journey through the endlessly colorful place we call our galaxy and reminds us that the Milky Way sits in a special place in the cosmic zoo—a “sweet spot” of properties. Is it coincidental that we find ourselves here at this place and time? Could there be a deeper connection between the nature of black holes and their role in the universe and the phenomenon of life? We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars.


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Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology


Winner of the American Astronomical Society’s Chambliss Astronomical Writing Award—for astronomy writing for an academic audience

Years ago, Caleb started teaching an upper-level course in the astronomy department at Columbia University on exoplanets and astrobiology. Because it was meant to be a more quantitative course (calculus, physics, problem solving) he found there was no text he could turn to. He then decided to convert his own notes into a usable textbook.

This book offers an advanced introduction to the increasingly robust fields of extrasolar planets and astrobiology. No other text currently available applies this level of mathematics and physics, while also providing an extensive grounding in key issues of chemistry, biology, and geophysics. With extensive references to the literature and chapter-ending exercises, this book can be used as the core text for teaching undergraduate or introductory graduate level courses. The text will also provide astrobiologists with an indispensable "User's Manual" when quick reference to key mathematical and physical techniques is needed. An online component, fully cross referenced with the text, is also available. Foreword by Geoff Marcy.