Finding life in the solar system: A new synthesis
Astrobiology is a new interdisciplinary science with cosmic import. It incorporates such disciplines as biology, microbiology, ecology, molecular biology, biochemistry, geology, paleontology, space and gravitational biology, planetology, and astronomy. Its mission to find extraterrestrial life even captured the government's attention when Jack Farmer (Department of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University) testified about NASA's efforts to explore for extraterrestrial life before the Committee on Science in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 12, 2001.
Farmer will present a new synthesis of ideas on how the burgeoning field of geobiology is playing a key role in our search for life in the Solar System on Thursday, November 8, at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting. His synthesis will include part of his testimony recorded in the Congressional Record.
A number of dynamic factors have led to the rise of astrobiology as a science. Scientists have realized that most of Earth's biodiversity is microbial and that large complex microbial ecosystems found in hydrothermal environments can exist entirely on chemical energy. One intriguing hypothesis (with obvious importance for astrobiology) is that life got started in hydrothermal environments. Could hydrothermal environments have been cradles for life on other planets? Discoveries of new forms of life on Earth that thrive in extreme environments broadened the possibilities that similar forms of life might also exist under similar extreme conditions beyond the Earth. Research on other planets and their moons are revealing the presence of environments that compare well with discoveries on Earth, and so there is even more reason to think that they could also sustain life.
"As a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and Director of ASU's Astrobiology Program, I have continually come into contact with wonderfully visionary scientists who are helping expand the horizons of astrobiology," Farmer said. "This has been my main source of inspiration. I guess at the bottom line, it's just an exciting time to be in science."
Geological Society of America. November 2001.
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