The Book

About Life on Other Planets

A stunning and inspiring memoir charting a life as an astronomer, classically-trained actor, mother, and Black woman in STEM, searching for life in the universe while building a meaningful life here on Earth.

As a kid, Aomawa Shields was always bumping into things, her neck craned up at the sky, dreaming of becoming an astronaut. A year into an astrophysics PhD program, plagued by self-doubt and discouraged by a white male professor who suggested that she—a young Black woman who also loved fashion, makeup, and the arts—didn’t belong, she left astronomy and pursued acting professionally for a decade, before a day job working for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope drew her back to the stars. She was the oldest and the only Black student in her PhD cohort. This time, no professor, and no voice in her own head, would stop her. Now an astronomer and astrobiologist at the top of her field, Dr. Shields studies the universe outside our Solar System, researching and uncovering the planets circling distant stars with just the right conditions that could support life—while also using her theater education to communicate the wonder and magic of the universe with those of us here on Earth. But it’s been a journey as winding and complex as the physics she has mastered.

Life on Other Planets is a journey of discovery on this world and on others, a story of creating a life that makes space for joy, love, and wonder while being driven by one of our biggest questions: Is anybody else out there? It is about the possibility of living between multiple worlds and not choosing—but instead charting a new path entirely.


“Shields’ unusual and inspiring account will appeal to readers who feel stuck in life. Discussing relatable issues like making decisions, financial worries, and imposter syndrome while she shares her approach to achieving lofty goals, Shields’ words will reassure readers who question their abilities when success seems elusive.”

“A lyrical, image-rich investigation of an unconventional blueprint for authentic living.”
–Kirkus Reviews

“Shields took my breath away with her candor on these pages. An inspiring account of the struggles of a hero who is both scientist and artist.” 
–Ann Druyan, writer, director, and producer of COSMOS
“A riveting memoir of crossroads, choices, and triumph. I could not put this book down. Shields is an astronomer whose writing miraculously feels like the night sky itself – vast, elegant, luminous.”
–Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead
“This book is so good, so gorgeously written, covering with integrity so much: being smart, scared, taking your power, humor, family, being different and the same, science, stars, sky, being a woman, being black; it is a triumph and a pleasure. It compels the reader to learn more about the planets, and how to stretch our unlimited capacity to live fully in this universe.”
–Natalie Goldberg, author of Three Simple Lines and Writing Down the Bones

Life on Other Planets” is a memoir from astronomer and astrobiologist Aomawa Shields, PhD. In the book, she writes about her journey as a Black woman in STEM and how she overcame self-doubt and negativity from others to find her place at the top of her field.”
The Root

“This is both literal and figurative; a memoir about the cosmos and about ourselves. Aomawa Shields, like many kids, fantasized about becoming an astronaut. But she soon realized that she actually wanted to be one. However, when in her astrophysics Ph.D. program (smart, much?!) she grew discouraged — one white male professor in particular felt this Black woman just didn’t belong. And she dropped out, becoming an actor (what can’t she do?!). But like a true calling, the stars didn’t leave her alone and 10 years later she went back to the program. Now she’s an astrobiologist and an astronomer who we all can’t help but cheer for in this stunning reflection on everything universal, even the truth.”
– Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

‘A beautiful meditation on space, identity and belonging. Leading American astronomer Dr Aomawa Shields takes us through the story of her life – from her obsession with the sky as a young girl, through to studying astronomy at MIT, pursuing acting and then finding her way back to science.’ Independent

“Astronomer Shields chronicles her trials and triumphs as a scientist, actor, and Black woman in her luminous debut. Obsessed with the stars as a child in New Hampshire (“I was always looking up. So much so that I often bumped into things”), Shields applied to Phillips Exeter Academy after learning that the school operated its own observatory. Once there, she also fell in love with performing and began the lifelong process of balancing her two passions. “I believed in the beauty of the universe, and in the power of a story well told through its characters. That was the common thread: story,” Shields writes. As she pursued an MFA in acting from UCLA and a PhD in astronomy and astrobiology from the University of Washington, she faced down (mostly white, mostly male) professors who took her love of the arts as a sign that she couldn’t hack it as a serious scientist. Her account of proving them wrong and thriving as the sole Black woman in her PhD cohort before becoming an astronomy professor at UC, Irvine is stirring and inspirational. This will resonate with dreamers of all stripes.” -Publishers Weekly

This riveting memoir is relatable and personable … As Shields says in the book, science and art don’t just compliment each other: they overlap. She’s a part of that overlap.” – BBC Sky at Night

“As one of the few black women in her field, her story is one of resilience – battling detractors and imposter syndrome to become a prominent astronomer. Her writing style is lyrical and readable and while not a household name in the UK, her story is well worth knowing.” – Prudence Wade, Daily Record

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Dr. Anowama Shields