What is Astrobiology?

Astrobiology is the study of the nature and extent of life in the Universe.

This includes the study of the origins of life, the limits of life, the search for life in the Solar System and beyond, the nature of the oldest traces of life, and the human exploration of space, among many other facets. The open questions that astrobiology addresses are inherently interdisciplinary and, as such, require collaboration across various fields of research.

Astrobiology manifests itself as an umbrella field encompassing many disciplines, including astronomy, chemistry, biology, geology, engineering, law, history, social sciences and more. 

The only known example of life in the Universe is that of life on Earth. We recognize this life as a complex state of matter evolving in the dynamical environment that is our planet. It is a natural process, predictably constrained by the universal laws of nature. By studying life on Earth we are able to begin to extrapolate our findings to other worlds and critically evaluate whether such phenomena may have occurred there. 

When inquiring into the nature and extent of life in the Universe, the questions posed will vary depending on the discipline. An astronomer might search for habitable astrophysical objects, while a chemist might wonder what phenomena initially constitute a habitable body or environment. No question in astrobiology is isolated, since all are posed within a broader context. 

The study of astrobiology is an attempt to broaden our understanding of life as we know it and to view life as a cosmic phenomenon. Astrobiology aims to understand the physicochemical conditions and geological requirements for the emergence of life, what elements and molecules can constitute life, what are the environmental, physiological and physicochemical limits of life, where in the cosmos it can be found and how it might be recognised. In so doing, astrobiology addresses a deep human fascination, and by no means a new one. It is, however, an incredibly interesting time for the field, with more cross-disciplinary research than ever before. New discoveries are certainly on the horizon!