What is Astrobiology?The term Astrobiology, in its broadest definition, denotes the study of the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe, of course including the Earth.
The question of the origins of life has been on the mind of European scientist for a long time. It can be traced back to the pioneer ideas of Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, and more recently to Alexander Oparin. During the last decades, the European community of scientists that studied the origin of life contributed to enlarge the field of research to the study of life in extreme environments and to the search for extraterrestrial life.
To understand the different aspects of where and how life formed, Astrobiology encompasses many scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology, palaeontology, geology, atmospheric physics, planetary physics and stellar physics.
Life, what makes it different from other matter and how did it began on Earth?
Given recent studies that indicate life arose very early on Earth and it is extremely tough once it exists, there is nothing to suggest that it would not arise on other planets. Astronomers have pushed the envelope and there is now conclusive evidence that there are many exoplanets; planets revolving around other stars. Therefore, current thinking is that it is likely that (microbial) life may be found on many other planets.
Still, the actual discovery of microbes on other worlds would be one of the biggest discoveries ever (although of course the presence of intelligent life would be absolutely fabulous). Conclusive evidence, particularly physical contact with intelligent life, would forever change every aspect of how humans approach all facets of religious, ethical and social behaviour.
Don't you agree that it would be to much a coincidence if, in a universe containing on the order of one trillion galaxies, each consisting of hundreds of millions of stars, there is, nestling in an arm of one galaxy, one star which swings about it a planet completely covered with the only life to be found in all that infinite cosmic desert?