05 April, 2012

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Exobiology

Public domain image. SOURCE.
Exobiology, also known as astrobiology, space biology, or xenobiology, is the study and search for life on other planets. The phrase was coined by microbiologist Joshua Lederberg.

Despite its name, a good part of exobiology is concerned with the origins of life on Earth itself. Earth is currently thought to be around 4.55 billion years old, with the first evidence of life occurring on the record at 3.5 billion years; however, the state of life up until relatively recently in the planet's history is unknown. Harold Urey (famous for the Miller-Urey Experiment) proposed that Earth had an atmosphere containing methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water--a "reducing" atmosphere--which would be the right conditions for organic chemistry to exist. Another theory is panspermia, or that life arrived from another planet via an object such as an asteroid.

An asteroid. Public domain image. SOURCE.
Some ongoing research in the field of exobiology focuses on prebiotic evolution (what kind of chemical system would be required to facilitate metabolism and replication, and alternative systems to DNA/RNA protein-based life), the evolution of early life (there are two major sources for this research: living organisms and geological records), the biosphere (such as how it might have responded to extraterrestrial events), and advanced life (biological and chemical factors which allowed it to develop). Studies also look at planetary conditions necessary for all that evolution (the formation of habitable planets, the formation of organic molecules, environments where chemical synthesis could happen, and the range in which life could exist).


Notable Exobiologist/Astrobiologist:

David Harry Grinspoon

David Grinspoon is the current Curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science's Department of Space Science; he is also Adjunct Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science at the University of Colorado. He is an advisor to NASA on space exploration, an Interdisciplinary Scientist on Venus Express (a satellite studying the atmosphere of Venus led by the European Space Agency), and has published books including Venus Revealed and Lonely Planets: The Natural History of Alien Life. He was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for public communication of planetary science in 2006.

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Sources:
http://www.accessexcellence.org/WN/NM/miller.php
http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/exobiology/about/
http://cafescicolorado.org/Grinspoon.htm 
http://www.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/Exobiology/index.html
http://www.funkyscience.net/bio.html
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exobiology
http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=64
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/exobiology

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What do you think the chances are that significant signs of life will be found on another, non-Earth planet? And if you think it's possible, how advanced do you think it could be?


-----The Golden Eagle

50 comments:

Rusty Webb said...

Getting amino acids to form in the lab has been pretty easy. Going beyond that has been tough. Panspermia used to be openly mocked as being absurd and is now taken very seriously. Peter Ward wrote an excellent book talking about this topic - Life as We Do Not Know It.

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

It's so intriguing the things that we don't know!

This is me, Duncan D. Horne, visiting you from the A-Z challenge, wishing you all the best throughout April and beyond.

Duncan In Kuantan

Yvonne Osborne said...

Fascinating stuff. I've always been intrigued by space. My favorite H.S. class was astronomy.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

We certainly like to think we're not alone.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I don't think we have the technology to get where we need to go to make those discoveries. Of course, it's possible, it'd be myopic to think otherwise, but in our system? I'm not sure.

This is so cool.

Old Kitty said...

I really would like to think other complex life exists in a different galaxy - the universe is massive - there must be other life!! Yay! Take care
x

DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

Perhaps we're not alone, but I somehow think we're the only humans.

Denise

Shelly said...

I don't believe we're alone. And I also believe that one day the human species will be forced from this planet b/c of thier careless behavior.

Ever see Red Planet where they put algea on the planet to make it habitable...something like that.

Interesting stuff, Golden.

Shelly
http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

Pat Hatt said...

Yeah there is life out there. May be nothing more than little germy rat wannabe things, but there is definitely life out there. Not sure we'll ever see it though.

Humpty Dumpty said...

To the question of whether I think there is life on other planets, I'd like to quote from the movie 'Contact': "If there isn't, that'd be an awful waste of space!" They may not be humanoid, like us, but there must be some sort of life out there, probably billions of years older than us. Whether we ever reach them or they reach us is a question for those physicists working on space travel methods. Thanks for getting our brains kick-started, this morning! :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Hmmm. I believe life was created by the Creator of all things. But I'm with you on other beings out there. Somewhere. I wonder if we'll ever find them, Eagle. I would love to have a conversation with them and read their books. They are wondering about us too. HA! (((hugs))) Eagle.

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

It's a big universe, it's been around for a long time, and there are more planets being found all the time -- some stranger than we could have imagined. Other life? Certainly.

Some has probably come and gone. Some is still evolving. Some we may not recognize as life because we're looking for a very narrow definition of it.

Will we find it? Well, that's tougher. If we look for the equivalent of our radio and TV broadcasts that bounced out to space -- well, it was a period of decades that TV shows went free, for the most part, before we started beaming everything to satellites. The odds of us looking during just the right span of time that such signals would hit us? Probably not good.

I believe it's out there. I hope we make some kind of contact. As time goes on, I have less belief that I will see it.

Erin

Clarissa Draper said...

I'm not coming here anymore. I feel so stupid! ;)

Another great (and complex) post. Do I believe in life on other planets? Maybe. But, it wouldn't be any life I would want to live. Have you seen those ugly planets!? One color? Come on aliens, spice up your planets a bit more. Our planet is a nice shade of blue and green.

Gregg said...

Interesting piece, I enjoyed it. Myself, I am a creationist and a young earth at that. Great site and good article. Thanks!

Charles Gramlich said...

I suspect life will be found many places in the universe. I doubt many, if any, intelligences of our level.

Nancy Thompson said...

I definitely think there's intelligent life out there, and much more advanced than us. With billions upon billions of galaxies and planets, how could there NOT be?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I really believe there is life out there, but I don't believe we'll be able to explore far enough afield to ever dicover it. at least not for a long time.

The Golden Eagle said...

Rusty: Very true. Research seems to run up against a wall and go no further.

It sounds like an interesting book!

Duncan: Definitely. :)

Yvonne: Same here. There's something fascinating about the unknown.

Alex: Indeed!

Jaye: I agree; it seems a bit unlikely that there would be life on other planets in this solar system.

Glad you think so. :)

Old Kitty: Me, too. There's just so much room for life!

Denise: I agree. Humanity is probably a unique development of the universe.

Shelly: It's sadly possible. We're certainly not doing a spectacular job at preserving things on Earth . . .

Nope, never seen it. Interesting idea, though!

Pat: Me, neither. I do hope humans discover life, however. :)

Humpty Dumpty: LOL. That's a great line!

(I need to see Contact sometime.)

I hope we come up with some method of FTL travel. It might be science fiction now--but other things that seemed impossible in the past we now do with ease.

You're very welcome! :)

Robyn: I'm sure extraterrestrial life would have some interesting things to say!

Erin: Yeah, that's one of the reason I'm skeptical of SETI. I love the idea and the technology is cool, but the chances seem so very slim . . .

Clarissa: I have to say, I feel similarly whenever I read your "Death By" posts. I've never heard of any of the things you write about before!

Thank you. :)

LOL. Did you hear about the all-black planet? I wouldn't want to think about life on something like that . . .

Gregg: I'm glad you enjoyed it!

All opinions are welcome here. :)

Charles: It would be interesting if there was, though.

Nancy: There's certainly a lot of, well, space out there. ;)

Susan: At the rate of current technology, you're probably right.

Rekha said...

arl Sagan said something to that effect, there is life but whether on a similar level of complexity is an unanswered question...I read a book, long ago, not sure about the cosmologist Sagan himself or someone else...a theory that intelligent life elsewhere which follow a similar evolution pattern reaches a level capable of inter stellar travel but dooms itself by the misuse of that very advanced technology, hence a contact is highly improbable yet is not impossible.

The Armchair Squid said...

Great theme!

Joshua said...

I'm a huge proponent of this kind of thing. I'd love a visit by alien life. Or go visit them.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I agree! We are not alone...right?

Leon Kennedy said...

too bad we stopped manned space flight.

Christine Rains said...

I think the chances are very high life will be found out there. Will we find intelligent life any time soon? I don't think so. It would be nice, but if there's intelligent life out there and they're more advanced than humans, they're going to know about us first.

Jay Noel said...

I love this topic!

The theory is panspermia is something that has gotten a foothold in mainstream science. People used to laugh about it, but I believe they are now taking it more seriously.

What if WE are the result of extra-terrestrial life smashing into Earth via an asteroid?

Stephen Henry said...

Interesting post. The image of the planet is stunning.

There's got to be other planets out there that have living organisms. How advanced they are probably ranges from bacteria to organisms that are more advanced than us.

Claire Hennessy said...

Well, by the time this blog challenge ends I feel I shall be much more educated. Thanks :) (Understanding only a small portion of your blog though LOL)

Susan Oloier said...

I love reading of the potential for life elsewhere and theories about the conception of our current existence.
What a thoughtful and intelligent post.

sue said...

I love the idea of other life forms, but we as a species aren't very careful of those on our own planet including each other so I believe it's best if we don't meet any others.
Sue: An A-Z of Climate Matters

Li said...

I think the chances of finding some sort of life are excellent, especially when you think about the life forms found here - around vents in the ocean floor which spew hot water and toxic gases, under crushing pressure, or in the frigid conditions of the poles, etc. As for how advanced - so many possibilities for evolutionary paths, it's hard to say. But with a universe so large, i guess a pretty good chance.

Liz said...

The first time I heard the panspermia theory was when I was in college. One of my professors was a proponent.

Life on other worlds? I don't know.

Cindy Dwyer said...

Great blog! I love learning new, interesting things when they are presented so well.

It's hard to believe there isn't life - of some kind - out there somewhere, especially in other galaxies.

It coming to Earth via space ships is another whole story.

Tara Tyler said...

your posts are so elaborate! exciting!
love the science facts! never heard of an exobiologist =)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great science! Very informative. I think we have a Creator ...but the processes of life are fascinating. I'm not sure what's out there . . .

Jemi Fraser said...

It would be so very sad and lonely if we were the only planet with life! There's got to be more out there somewhere!! :)

mshatch said...

I think anything is possible. It would not surprise me to learn that life - both more intelligent and less - existed on other planets.

Lynn said...

I have never heard of that - exobiology. Wonderful E post. :)

Miranda Hardy said...

I enjoy pondering the possibilities and I'd venture to agree its probable life exists elsewhere. I'd also have to agree there is more intelligent life beyond.

Gina said...

Wow! You're on a quest to kick ignorance out of us, right? I really like your posts and I'm actually learning something. Thanks!

Good luck with the challenge!
From Diary of a Writer in Progress

anthony stemke said...

Another brilliant post. Took a billion years to develop life, so, it's early yet; there is plenty more to learn.

D.G. Hudson said...

I think it's highly possible. My hubby reads physics books for fun, and he keeps me updated.

I liked your post. We can speculate and discuss, but I just hope they are less like Men in Black/Independence Day, and more like Close Encounters. . .

Thamks for dropping by my blog!

Jamie Gibbs said...

I find it amusing that most folk think that any and all intelligent life is essentially humanoid, when even the slightest change in the temperature or pressure of a planet can cause a shift in evolution that completely alters the biology of a species.


Jamie Gibbs
Fellow A-Z buddy
Mithril Wisdom

Anna Smith said...

I'd heard of this but didn't really know what it was. Great post :)

Universal Gibberish

Paul Tobin said...

Yes I do! I am not sure we will ever meet any, the distances are too great and I think there is a chance that species do not last long, they alter the environment as they develop and in turn it does for them.

Stuart Nager said...

I firmly believe there is other life "out there"...we just may not recognize it as such. I think it's hubris to feel we are it. Space is just too vast for one life form.

The Golden Eagle said...

Rekha: Interesting idea. I wonder why interstellar travel would doom life?

The Armchair Squid: Thank you! :)

Joshua: Same here. What an experience that would be . . .

S. L.: I hope not! :)

Leon: Definitely.

Christine: And probably avoid us like heck if they can. :P

Jay: Me, too. I love learning more about the field of exobiology.

It's an intriguing idea! Imagine what would have happened if (assuming the theory of panspermia is true) life had developed on another planet in the solar system.

Stephen: Thanks!

Glad you like the image. :)

Possibly. At this point, even finding some bacteria would be amazing.

Claire: You're welcome! I aim to educate here. :)

Susan: I do, too.

Thank you so much!

Sue: Good point. Humanity isn't that good at negotiating among itself or taking care of Earth--I hate to think what might happen to other life.

Li: There are certainly billions of opportunities. :)

Liz: None of us knows positively, at this point (at least, I don't think there are any aliens reading this blog . . .).

Cindy: Thank you!

Yeah. Though I'd be willing to bet it wouldn't happen at all like it does in the movies. :P

Tara: Thanks. :)

It's not the most famous scientific field . . .

Tyrean: Thank you.

Aren't they? It's fun to think what undiscovered ones might be occurring elsewhere!

Jemi: I hope there is! :)

Mshatch: Me, neither.

Lynn: Thank you! :)

Miranda: Maybe we'll come across it one day.

Gina: More write about what interests me in the hopes other people will also be intrigued by it. :)

You're welcome!

Thanks.

Anthony: Thank you!

I think there will always be more to learn, when it comes to science. One of the reasons I love it!

D.G.: I'm glad you liked it. :)

I've never seen any of the titles you mentioned--though I do know what happens in Independence Day, so I can guess about Close Encounters.

I enjoyed reading your post about the Eiffel Tower! Very interesting.

Jamie: Yeah, me too. All the movie aliens have some humanoid feature, it would seem . . .

Anna: Thanks! :)

Paul: Interesting idea. We're certainly changing our environment now.

Stuart: I definitely agree!

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, so cool how fluid flows. Thanks for this post. Have a great weekend.

Leon Kennedy said...

I was just in Denver, their Nature and Science museum rocked

The Golden Eagle said...

Clarissa: You're welcome! :)

Leon: It must have been awesome to go there.

Deniz Bevan said...

My father has his computer linked up to SETI :-)