The most recent issue of Environmental Humanities featuring the special section, “Familiarizing the Extraterrestrial / Making Our Planet Alien,” edited by Istvan Praet Juan Francisco Salazar, is now available.
This special section brings together research on outer space by means of ethnographic explorations of astrobiology, planetary science, and physical cosmology. A growing number of researchers in the social sciences and the environmental humanities have begun to focus on the wider universe and how it is apprehended by modern cosmology. Today the extraterrestrial has become part of the remit of anthropologists, philosophers, historians, geographers, scholars in science and technology studies, and artistic researchers, among others.
This section also explores how Earth is being transformed into a “natural laboratory” of sorts, allowing scientists to experiment with and theorize about alien life. There is an emerging consensus that astronomers and other natural scientists—contrary to a common prejudice—are never simply depicting or describing the cosmos “just as it is.” Scientific knowledge of the universe is based on skilled judgments rather than on direct, unmediated perception. It is science, but it is also an art.