September 2020

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

By Sara Seager
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Sara Seager has a hard time connecting with people. Despite a meaningful relationship with her father, she often feels a bit removed from others, a bit challenged by social norms. Instead, Seager feels at home when she’s gazing upward. The night sky has held her attention since she was a child and a babysitter took her and her siblings camping several hours away from their Toronto home. When she saw the stars, Seager was certain she’d discovered a new world.

As an adult, this continuing desire to discover new worlds propelled Seager’s professional life, but she remained less gifted in social relationships. So she was surprised when she found a connection with Mike, a fellow member of the Wilderness Canoe Association in Toronto. As the pair paddled the Humber River, Seager realized they were in sync. Off the water, their interests seemed divergent—he was an editor, she was an astrophysicist—but they complemented each other. He understood the day-to-day concerns of living, while she dreamed of grand possibilities. 

When Seager and Mike moved to Massachusetts for her academic career, she found herself torn between two loves: the stars and her growing family. Seager’s work as an astrophysicist was demanding, and Mike supported her stargazing. But when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Seager recognized the personal cost of searching the universe for planets that could sustain life. After Mike died, she was left to reconcile her thirst for discovery with her grief and the concerns that occupy everyday life.

In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, Seager shares a passion for the universe so deep that even this reviewer, a physics dunce, could grasp why she would spend her life gazing toward other planets. Analytical yet lyrical, Seager’s memoir is an examination of the parallels between searching for new life in the multiverse and starting over with a new life on Earth—the sort of connection only an astrophysicist might make.

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