Review: Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction
by Jeff Foust
|To them, exobiology is the “science of extraterrestrial life”, while astrobiology “focuses on the more fundamental, and more tractable, question of the relationship between life and the Universe.”|
With the definitions of life and astrobiology out of the way, Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction then goes on to examine the issues associated with the formation of life, at least on Earth. Starting with the Big Bang, they work their way through the formation of stars and solar systems, the development of the chemical building blocks of life, and the evolution of life itself on Earth. They also look at the study of extremophiles, life forms that exist under extreme conditions of temperature, salinity, and pH that scientists once thought to be inhospitable to life (and thus expand the range of conditions on other worlds that could support life). Finally, the authors conclude with chapters on the prospects for habitable worlds both in our solar system and beyond, and the search for life on those worlds, ranging from the controversial Martian meteorite ALH84001 to SETI.
Because astrobiology is such an interdisciplinary field, the authors cover a wide range of material in the book, from cosmology to organic chemistry. While many space professionals and enthusiasts may be familiar with the astronomy and planetary science discussions, the biology and chemistry portions of the book may be less familiar, and a bit harder to read, especially for those who never took (or have long forgotten) college biology and chemistry. However, it’s worth it to slog through some of the denser discussions of biochemistry and the like, as the authors have provided a comprehensive yet concise introduction to the field. Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction is a good way to get up to speed with the field and understand the scientific foundation upon which this study of life on Earth and beyond is based.