Exobiology

The field of exobiology is the study of which topic?

And the answer: life in outer space.    

As the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains, exobiology is "a branch of biology concerned with the search for life outside the earth and with the effects of extraterrestrial environments on living organisms."

Photo credit: ysjournal.com

While most simply wonder if life on other planets is possible, a field of researchers at NASA and other space agencies have fashioned their careers around the field of exobiology. The endeavor not only seeks to confirm the possibility of life beyond our Earth, but also to understand the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe.

There are several distinct areas of research which inform exobiology. The first surrounds the planetary conditions required to support life, and includes topics that seek to uncover which planets are formed to support habitable conditions, how complex molecules form and occupy planetary surfaces, and so on. This area of research within exobiology is a necessary precursor to understanding how life can exist in largely non-oxygenated conditions. Similarly, the field of prebiotic evolution attempts to connect the dots between planetary evolution and the evolution of living systems on that planet.

Another area of research in exobiology surrounds an examination of the early evolution of life on Earth. While it may seem antithetical to attempt to understand life on other planets by looking simply at our own, the key to unlocking evolutionary knowledge can be found in abundance at our own doorstep. By studying the molecular record in living organisms and the geological record of the Earth, scientists can better understand the early conditions of our planet and the conditions which allowed life systems to ultimately thrive. This knowledge can then be applied to other planets showing similar signs of early evolution. Then, researchers can look to advanced life on Earth and examine when and where multicellular evolution began to take hold.

Learn more about exobiology and its applications here.


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