Portal:Astrobiology

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Astrobiology

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of extraterrestrial life. This interdisciplinary field takes up the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry, laboratory and field research into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in outer space. Astrobiology addresses the question of whether life exists beyond Earth, and how humans can detect it if it does.

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 the biosphere on Earth. Astrobiology concerns itself with interpretation of existing scientific data; 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. Although speculation is entertained to give context, astrobiology concerns itself primarily with hypotheses that fit firmly into existing scientific theories.

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The structure of Silane
Hypothetical types of biochemistry are forms of biochemistry speculated to be scientifically viable but not proven to exist at this time. While the kinds of living beings we know on Earth commonly use carbon for basic structural and metabolic functions, water as a solvent and DNA or RNA to define and control their form, it is possible that undiscovered life-forms could exist that differ radically in their basic structures and biochemistry from that known to science.

The possibility of extraterrestrial life being based on these "alternative" biochemistries is a common subject in science fiction, but is also discussed in a non-fiction scientific context.

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Lynn, Death Valley 2006.jpg
Lynn J. Rothschild is an evolutionary biologist, astrobiologist and synthetic biologist at NASA's Ames Research Center, and a consulting Professor at Stanford University. She is also an adjunct Professor at Brown University. At Ames her research has focused on how life, particularly microbes, has evolved in the context of the physical environment, both on Earth and potentially beyond our planet's boundaries. Since 2007 she has studied the effect of UV radiation on DNA synthesis, carbon metabolism and mutation/DNA repair in the Rift Valley of Kenya and the Atacama desert of Bolivia, and also in high altitude experiments atop Mt. Everest, in balloon payloads with BioLaunch and in collaboration with Mavericks Civilian Space Foundation. Currently she holds the title of Chief Scientist for Synthetic Biology.

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PIA01130 Interior of Europa.jpg
Credit: NASA/JPL

Europa, due to the ocean that exists under its icy surface, might host some form of microbial life

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Astrobiology(8 C, 86 P)
Anthropic principle(7 P)
ExoMars(3 P)
Extraterrestrial life(4 C, 55 P)
Extremophiles(18 C, 16 P)
Panspermia(13 P)
Planetary habitability(2 C, 11 P)

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