Placing Outer Space

An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds

Duke University Press, 2016

​"Part cosmic travelogue, part scholarly analysis, in Placing Outer Space Lisa Messeri refreshingly interprets the planetary scientist's methods and tools and orbs-of-interest through the lens of a curious anthropologist. From there we gain insight into who we really are as explorers, and what motivates our endless search for worlds beyond."

-Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History

"To become an exoplanet scientist, Messeri shows (in part by undergoing some training herself), is to learn to see and convey these abstractions as something more relatable — as ­'super-Earths' or 'mini-Neptunes' or such. 'To excite the community about a particular visualization,' as Messeri nicely puts it, 'is to convince them that the image contains a world.' And to really excite the community, presumably, is to convince them that a world contains little green men."

-New York Times Book Review

In Placing Outer Space, I trace how the placemaking practices of planetary scientists transform the void of space into a cosmos filled with worlds that can be known and explored. Making planets into places is central to the daily practices and professional identities of the astronomers, geologists, and computer scientists I studied. I take readers to the Mars Desert Research Station and a NASA research center to discuss ways scientists experience and map Mars. At a Chilean observatory and in MIT's labs I describes how they discover exoplanets and envision what it would be like to inhabit them. Today’s planetary science reveals the universe as densely inhabited by evocative worlds, which in turn tells us more about Earth, ourselves, and our place in the universe.