Who or What is Astrobiology?


Earthrise Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts-Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders-held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis. Image Credit: NASA

Earthrise
Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts-Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders-held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis.
Image Credit: NASA

What is Astrobiology?

“Astrobiology, the study of life as planetary phenomenon, aims to understand the fundamental nature of life on Earth and the possibility of life elsewhere. To achieve this goal, astrobiologists initiated unprecedented communications among the disciplines of astronomy biology, chemistry, and geology. . . . “
(1)

Who is an Astrobiologist?

Perhaps, an Astrobiologist is best described as a scientist whose primary roles fall within three definite areas:

  • Concerned about how life began and evolved
  • Concerned about questions of life beyond Earth
  • Concerned about the future of life (on Earth and beyond)

Beyond the major roles in Astrobiology, the scientist acknowledges the need for an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort among the disciplines. Perhaps it is best stated in the following manner—”it is not a practice of a lone scientist, but the interdependence between all parties.”

Otherwise, I take the following quotation from (Workshop on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology, Final Report—2000):

“Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work is imperative. There must be close coordination between the scientists who conduct the research and those who can shed light on the social implications…Thoughtful and effective collaboration may
break down the barriers that separate different intellectual fields and move us in the direction of consilience, or the unification of knowledge.”(2)

 Illustration Comparing Apparent Sizes of Moons This illustration provides a comparison for how big the moons of Mars appear to be, as seen from the surface of Mars, in relation to the size that Earth's moon appears to be when seen from the surface of Earth.  Earth's moon actually has a diameter more than 100 times greater than the larger Martian moon, Phobos. However, the Martian moons orbit much closer to their planet than the distance between Earth and Earth's moon. Deimos, at far left, and Phobos, beside it, are shown together as they actually were photographed by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Aug. 1, 2013.  The images are oriented so that north is up. The size-comparison image of Earth's moon, on the right, is also oriented with north up. Deimos has a diameter of 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) and was 12,800 miles (20,500 kilometers) from the rover at the time of the image. Phobos has a diameter 14 miles (22 kilometers) and was 3,900 miles (6,240 kilometers) from the rover at the time of the image. Earth's moon has a diameter of 2,159 miles (3,474 kilometers) and is typically about 238,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) from an observer on Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.


Illustration Comparing Apparent Sizes of Moons
This illustration provides a comparison for how big the moons of Mars appear to be, as seen from the surface of Mars, in relation to the size that Earth’s moon appears to be when seen from the surface of Earth. Earth’s moon actually has a diameter more than 100 times greater than the larger Martian moon, Phobos. However, the Martian moons orbit much closer to their planet than the distance between Earth and Earth’s moon. Deimos, at far left, and Phobos, beside it, are shown together as they actually were photographed by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Aug. 1, 2013. The images are oriented so that north is up. The size-comparison image of Earth’s moon, on the right, is also oriented with north up. Deimos has a diameter of 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) and was 12,800 miles (20,500 kilometers) from the rover at the time of the image. Phobos has a diameter 14 miles (22 kilometers) and was 3,900 miles (6,240 kilometers) from the rover at the time of the image. Earth’s moon has a diameter of 2,159 miles (3,474 kilometers) and is typically about 238,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) from an observer on Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.

NOTES:

  1. Billings, L, V Cameron, M Claire, G J Dick, S D Domagal-Goldman, E J Javaux, O J Johnson, et al. 2006. “The Astrobiology Primer: An Outline of General Knowledge–version 1, 2006.” Astrobiology 6 (5) (October): 735–813. doi:10.1089/ast.2006.6.735. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17067259.
  2. Connell, K., Dick, S.J., and Rose,K. (2000) Workshop on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology, Final Report, NASA Technical Memorandum, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.: http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/workshops/societal.
  3. Image Credit: Earthrise–http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1249.html#.Ug6pRZK1GSo
  4. Final Image Credit: Moons–http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/gallery-indexEvents.html#.Ug6q_JK1GSp
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