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Physics LibreTexts

19.2 Astrobiology

As infants, we were fascinated by our new lives outside the womb. The seemingly infinite world of novel shapes, textures, tastes, sounds, and smells stimulated our interest and our minds. As adolescents, we were uninterested by the norm. The world of our infancy had grown boring to us; we became adventure seekers. Constantly testing the boundaries, we learned as a byproduct of curiosity and strived to learn our limits. In some ways, scientists are not unlike adolescents. Captivated by the world, scientists (and more generally humankind) remain inquisitive about the workings of nature. 

With each new generation we learn more about the world around us. Yet it seems like the more we learn, the greater the number of questions we seek to answer. Some of these questions change with our expanding knowledge base. But some of these questions are ageless questions asked generation after generation. For example, how did life begin? Are we alone in the universe? What is the destiny of life on Earth and beyond? 

Questions like these are central to the new scientific field called astrobiology. Finding an answer to these questions will require the work of more than just one group of scientists. For instance, to answer the question of how life began on Earth, one might require an understanding of the geological conditions on early Earth, the type of chemistry that was likely to occur, the rate of asteroid impact, and the steps leading from chemistry to biology. As a result, astrobiology is a discipline that exists at the intersection of more traditional disciplines such as geology, biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, philosophy, religion, and mathematics. Because of its truly interdisciplinary nature, scientists from disparate backgrounds are learning to collaborate in their common endeavor to unravel the origin, evolution, and future of life on Earth and the Universe. The result is an astounding variety of scientific discoveries both of our own planet Earth as well as the planets and moons within our Solar System and beyond; scientific discoveries of such magnitude that they are certain to captivate the attention all humankind.