Life on Earth - and Beyond book cover image

Life on Earth - and Beyond
An Astrobiologist's Quest

  • 1995

By: Pamela S. Turner

Is there life beyond Earth?

NASA astrobiologist Dr. Chris McKay has searched the earth's most extreme environments on his quest to understand what factors are necessary to sustain life.

Pamela S. Turner offers readers an inside look at Dr. McKay's research, explaining his findings and his hopes for future exploration both on Earth and beyond. Behind-the-scenes photos capture Dr. McKay, his expeditions, and the amazing microbes that survive against all odds.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Pamela S. Turner, author

Pam Turner could not stop reading and drawing as a child. From being scolded for reading at the dinner table to going through sketchbooks so fast that her mother had to buy her rolls of shelf paper to use as canvas, Pam was consumed with creating and learning. Even at night, when forced to turn her lights off for bed, Pam would read by the small red light emanating from the temperature control for her electric blanket. It’s no wonder that Pam eventually became a celebrated children’s author.

Read more about Pam.

Awards & Honors:

  • Book Links Best New Books for the Classroom
  • ABC Best Books for Children
  • NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
  • Booklist's Top Ten Sci-Tech Books for Youth
  • CCBC Choices
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
  • PSLA Young Adult Top 40
  • Capitol Choices list of Noteworthy Titles for Children and Teens

Editorial Reviews:

Booklist, starred review

Astrobiologists look outward from the Earth seeking evidence of life elsewhere in the universe. But, as this fascinating book shows, they also travel to places on Earth where extreme conditions may be similar to those on distant worlds. Turner follows astrobiologist Chris McKay as he looks for life in apparently hostile environments. He finds cyanobacteria and fungi on a sandstone cliff in Antarctica, collects microbes in Chile's Atacama Desert, thaws out bacteria 3.5 million years old frozen in Siberian permafrost, and finds cyanobacteria in rocks of the Sahara Desert. Finally, McKay returns to Antarctica to melt a hole through 16 feet of ice, dives down 100 feet of frigid water, and studies the algae living at the bottom of a lake. Turner's absorbing account gives enough detail to create vivid impressions of McKay's explorations and enough background of amusement or amazement let readers share her evident enjoyment in McKay's quest. Illustrated with many excellent color photos and other images, the book concludes with Turner's note on her research, as well as lists of recommended books, movies, and internet resources. This beautifully designed volume offers an eye-opening look at an astrobiologist in action.

School Library Journal, starred review

Following the lead of the exemplary "Scientists in the Field" series (Houghton), this is another handsomly packaged, profusely illustrated portrait of a researcher whose "lab" is the great outdoors--in this case, the driest deserts, coldest waters, and other most inhospitable environments on Earth. In order to explore the feasibility of life on other planets, NASA scientist Chris McKay travels in turn to Antarctica's Dry Valleys and ice-covered Lake Hoare, to Chile's Atacama Desert, Siberia, and the Sahara to study the bacteria and other microscopic organisms that call such climactic extremes home. The photographs, which are reproduced with unusual clarity, range from shots of McKay and his colleagues at work in various rugged settings to micrographs of bacteria, from satellite photos to side-by-side pairings of physical features in the Atacama and intriguingly similar formations on Mars. Closing with an author's statement and digestible lists of multimedia resources, this profile is an engagingly written, visually appealing follow-up to more general introduction, such as Bill Doyle's The Space Explorer's Guide to the Universe (Scholastic, 2003).

Capital Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children

Astrobiologist Chris McKay looks for life in remote areas like Antarctica, Siberia, and the Altacama and Saharan Desert hoping to learn how life might survive on Mars and beyond. Turner has provided a splendid description of this scientist's work in the field, illustrated with many of his own (excellent) photographs. I especially liked the examples of research cooperation - even to the point of joining an anthropological expedition investigating rock art in the Sahara. A clear explanation with fascinating details, this offers a new perspective on space exploration.

The Horn Book Magazine

NASA scientist Chris McKay has traveled to the ends of the earth to investigate the microscopic life that exists in extreme environments. Examining the conditions under which microbes survive (or not) in places that are very dry or cold may give him and other scientists information they can use to search for life on Mars and other extraterrestrial locales. More than just an explanation of the science, however, this is an in-depth look at the richly rewarding career of a field scientist and the questions that have unfolded for him over decades of research. Of course, there's also plenty of adventure to be had, as extreme conditions for microbes also mean extreme conditions for humans. McKay and colleagues camp in remote locations (shown on maps that open each chapter) such as the freezing Antarctic and arid deserts in Chile and Egypt, and use an array of inventive tools in their quest for knowledge about microscopic life. The first-rate color photographs and other illustrations, most provided by NASA or McKay, serve mainly as a travelogue of the scientists' expeditions, though there are also telling side-by-side comparisons of arid deserts on Earth and Martian landscapes photographed on recent missions. Further reading, movies, and Internet resources are appended, along with an index.

Curriculum Connections

NASA scientist Chris McKay takes the readers to Antarctica, Chile, Siberia, and the Sahara Desert, as he studies microbes to see if they can sustain life in the most inhospitable environments. Color photographs fill each page and chronicle the scientist at work around the world, as he speculates about the possibility of life on Mars and generates excitement about future investigations in microbiology and astronomy.

Book Links

Regardless of their level of interest in science, Turner's photo-essay of the work of Dr. Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA, will capture readers from the start. With an attractive design and crisp color photographs on every spread, this fascinating portrayal shows McKay at work in the world's most unforgiving habitats--including Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, and Siberia--"to better understand how life might survive the extreme environments on other worlds." Concluding with an enlightening note on the author's research, additional print and online resources, and an index, this profile of a passionate scientist informs and inspires.

NSTA Recommends

Searching for life on other worlds can begin on Earth. This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2009 provides an account of an astrobiologist's search in areas on Earth that are similar to Martian environments; he explores such places as Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, and Siberia to find out how life can survive in such harsh earthly environments.

This interdisciplinary book has many applications in middle and secondary classrooms. Many maps and climate data support bioecology, while a thumbprint reference to solar system bodies that might have water will expand students' imagination. There is a good foundation of biology, including the vital role of water in the evolution and maintenance of life. Finally, the diverse areas of scientific expertise represented in the book will encourage students of many talents and intelligences to explore further.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-133-2

Ages: 9-12
Page count: 112
7 1/2 x 10

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