Astrobiology (Overview)

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Abstract / Description of output

Astrobiology seeks to understand the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe and thus to integrate biology with planetary science, astronomy, cosmology, and the other physical sciences. The discipline emerged in the late twentieth century, partly in response to the development of space exploration programmes in the USA, Russia, and elsewhere. Many astrobiologists are now involved in the search for life on Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and beyond. However, research in astrobiology does not presume the existence of extraterrestrial life, for which there is no compelling evidence; indeed, it includes the study of life on Earth in its astronomical and cosmic context. Moreover, the absence of observed life from all other planetary bodies requires a scientific explanation, and suggests several hypotheses amenable to further observational, theoretical, and experimental investigation under the aegis of astrobiology. Despite the apparent uniqueness of Earth’s biosphere — the “n=1 problem” — astrobiology is increasingly driven by large quantities of data. Such data have been provided by the robotic exploration of the solar system, the first observations of extrasolar planets, laboratory experiments into prebiotic chemistry, spectroscopic measurements of organic molecules in
extraterrestrial environments, analytical advances in the biogeochemistry and
palaeobiology of very ancient rocks, surveys of Earth’s microbial diversity and
ecology, and experiments to delimit the capacity of organisms to survive and thrive in extreme conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalOxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2021


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