What Is Astrobiology?

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg examines Extra Terrestrials. New planets have been observed far beyond our solar system and telescopes are being built that will enable us to look for water and oxygen on these distant planets. If water and oxygen are present, there is every reason to suppose that some form of life might also exist there. It has even been suggested that we might find life within our own solar system. One of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, appears to be covered in an ice-crusted ocean and there is evidence that water once flowed on Mars. On our own planet, there are forms of life that don’t need the sun, living instead on energy from volcanic vents on the ocean floor. This discovery has changed our concept of what life needs in order to survive. Could life only exist on another planet like ours and what are our chances of ever discovering such a planet? If we find life, will it be intelligent, or little more than green slime?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Extra Terrestrials

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars.

The holy grail of all this activity would be the actual discovery of alien life, and such a discovery would likely have profound scientific and philosophical implications. But extraterrestrial life has not yet been discovered, and for all we know may not even exist. Fortunately, even if alien life is never discovered, all is not lost: simply searching for it will yield valuable benefits for society.

Why is this the case?...

Continue reading Ian Crawford's article: Why looking for aliens is good for society (even if there aren't any)

Further Reading

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe: extraterrestrial life and life on Earth. Astrobiology addresses the question of whether life exists beyond Earth, and how humans can detect it if it does. The term exobiology is similar but more specific—it covers the search for life beyond Earth, and the effects of extraterrestrial environments on living things.

Astrobiology makes use of physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, molecular biology, ecology, planetary science, geography, and geology to investigate the possibility of life on other worlds and help recognize biospheres that might be different from that on Earth. The origin and early evolution of life is an inseparable part of the discipline of astrobiology. Astrobiology concerns itself with interpretation of existing scientific data, and although speculation is entertained to give context, astrobiology concerns itself primarily with hypotheses that fit firmly into existing scientific theories. Given more detailed and reliable data from other parts of the universe, the roots of astrobiology itself—physics, chemistry and biology—may have their theoretical bases challenged...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Astrobiology

Bonus Webcomic

Trematodes - SMBC

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