Books·Canadian

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

The Smallest Lights in the Universe is a book by Sara Seager.

Sara Seager

Sara Seager has made it her life's work to peer into the spaces around stars — looking for exoplanets outside our solar system, hoping to find the one-in-a-billion world enough like ours to sustain life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, her life became an empty, lightless space. Suddenly, she was the single mother of two young boys, a widow at forty, clinging to three crumpled pages of instructions her husband had written for things like grocery shopping — things he had done while she did pioneering work as a planetary scientist at MIT. She became painfully conscious of her Asperger's, which before losing her husband had felt more like background noise. She felt, for the first time, alone in the universe.

In this probing, invigoratingly honest memoir, Seager tells the story of how, as she stumblingly navigated the world of grief, she also kept looking for other worlds. She continues to develop groundbreaking projects, such as the Starshade, a sunflower-shaped instrument that, when launched into space, unfurls itself so as to block planet-obscuring starlight, and she takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets. At the same time, she discovers what feels every bit as wondrous: other people, reaching out across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering consolation and advice, and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match with an amateur astronomer. Equally attuned to the wonders of deep space and human connection, The Smallest Lights in the Universe is its own light in the dark. (From Doubleday Canada)

Sara Seager is an an astronomer and planetary scientist originally from Toronto. She currently teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is also the author of the academic books Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes and Exoplanets.

From the book

I was ten years old when I first really saw the stars. I was mostly a city kid, so I didn't often experience true darkness. The streets of Toronto were my universe. My parents had split up when I was very young, and my brother, sister, and I spent a lot of time on our own, riding subways, exploring alleys. Sometimes we had babysitters barely older than we were. One of them, a boy named Tom, asked my father to take all of us camping.

Camping wasn't my father's idea of a good time. Canadians escape to "cottage country" as often as they can, snaking out of the city in great lines of weekend traffic, aiming for some sacred slice of lake and trees. Dr. David Seager was British, and he often wore a tie on weekends; for him, sleeping in the woods was something that animals did.


Excerpted from The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager. Copyright © 2020. Published by Doubleday Canada, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited.

Interviews with Sara Seager

Exploring the galaxy for exoplanets that have the ability to support life is the least complicated part of Sara Seager's life. The Canadian astrophysicist and MIT planetary scientist explores her complicated childhood, the untimely death of her husband and raising two young boys all while searching the stars in her new memoir: The Smallest Lights in the Universe. 40:15

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