Astrobiology

Though it is said that there is no real agreed definition for astrobiology, as I see it, the universal meaning can be defined as the part of biology with a primary interest in studying life in the Universe. This includes the origin and evolution of life in outer space and on Earth.

Astrobiology is a compilation of an array of scientific disciplines which includes biology, astronomy, technology, and ecology. Planetary biology, the study of “human spaceflight and how life first came into existence” and exobiology, “the study of other planets both in our Solar System and those orbiting around other stars” are probably the most recognized of these of disciplines.

Astrobiologists search for answers to endless questions. Some of them are: How did life on earth come to be? Can or does life exist on other planets? What will be necessary for human life to survive in outer space? What future challenges may be faced on Earth and beyond?

These biologists seek to understand and determine the beginning of life and how life affects or are affected by the environment from which it evolved. Within this field of study, there have been numerous accounts of life’s existence on Mars. In 1996 scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported proof of microscopic life form on Mars approximately 4 billion years ago. They found a large meteorite that had broken off from Mars when it was hit by an asteroid over15 million years ago. This meteorite was found on Earth in the South Pole and appeared to have landed there 13,000 years ago.

“Researchers found tubular structures lodged in the clay inside the meteorite, which NASA believes are fossilized bacterial forms 3.6 billion years old”. They were able to determine that the meteorite was in fact from Mars by comparing its chemical structure to data obtained by the Viking explorer, a spacecraft developed by NASA 20 years prior to orbit and land on Mars. It had the ability to not only take pictures and collect data from the Martian surface but it could also conduct experiments. In addition to the discoveries made in 1996, on February 27, 2001, The SpaceDaily reported a second research group from NASA to report evidence of life on Mars based on similarities between the Martian magnetite crystals and crystals formed inside magnetotactic bacteria present on Earth. The results of this research, referred to as the Ames study, were able to confirm a biological origin because the crystals were of similar size, shape, did not touch, and the chains they formed were curved. “Since bacteria on Earth that use magnetic forces require some oxygen, researchers said their presence on the meteorite denotes that there were plant-like organisms using photosynthesis on Mars 3.9 billion years ago”. Scientists from Budapest, Hungary have also reported evidence of life on Mars after they analyzed over 60, 000 pictures taken by the Mars Global Surveyor probe, an orbital technologic invention capable of scanning and collecting data from the surface floor of Mars. The team stated that the pictures revealed proof of many dark dune spots located in craters in Mars’ southern polar region. These spots are similar to organisms found near the South Pole on Earth. Tibor Ganti, a biologist and team member stated that “these spots indicate that on the surface below the ice there are such organisms which, absorbing solar energy, are able to melt the ice and create conditions of life for themselves”. Extra-solar planets, also referred to as exoplanets, have provided researchers information in determining life in the Universe. These planets are in addition to the nine in our solar system. They orbit around stars other than the sun. The Doppler Effect has proven to be effective in monitoring stars’ light by using a process called spectroscopy where the star light is detected by separating the light of a star into the light’s colors. “The elements present in a star emit light especially strongly in particular colors, creating bright lines on a star’s spectrum, or its range of color”. Astronomers monitor regular changes to determine the presence of a planet. According to the ‘Extra-solar Planets Catalog’, https://www.obspm.fr/planets, there are a total of 107 planets discovered to date. NASA’s “Kepler Mission is specifically designed to survey the extended solar neighborhood to detect and characterize hundreds of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the habitable zone”, the area in the solar system and any other planetary system that can essentially support life. The scientific goal of these scientists “is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems”.

Our government should discontinue supporting astrobiology research in the quest to determine if human life can thrive on planets other than Earth and whether or not there is extra-terrestrial or terrestrial life on other planets. These studies have proven to be very costly and in my opinion, unnecessary. For the sake of this country, we should continue monitoring outer space in an effort to maintain universal safety by staying abreast of possible terrorist acts. Additional funding can also be worth while in protecting Earth against global warming and depletion of fossil fuels which are essential for healthy, comfortable living.

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