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Astrobiology of Earth: The Emergence, Evolution and Future of Life on a Planet in Turmoil
     

Astrobiology of Earth: The Emergence, Evolution and Future of Life on a Planet in Turmoil

by Joseph Gale
 

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ISBN-10: 0199205817

ISBN-13: 9780199205813

Pub. Date: 05/15/2009

Publisher: Oxford University Press

The study of life in our universe has been given the name 'astrobiology'. It is a relatively new subject, but not a new discipline since it brings together several mature fields of science including astronomy, geology, biology, and climatology. An understanding of the singular conditions that allowed the only example of life that we know exists to emerge and

Overview

The study of life in our universe has been given the name 'astrobiology'. It is a relatively new subject, but not a new discipline since it brings together several mature fields of science including astronomy, geology, biology, and climatology. An understanding of the singular conditions that allowed the only example of life that we know exists to emerge and survive on our turbulent planet is essential if we are to seek answers to two fundamental questions facing humanity: will life (and especially human life) continue on Earth, and does life exist elsewhere in the universe?

Astrobiology of Earth adopts a unique approach that differs from most texts in the field which focus on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. In contrast, the central theme of this book is the fortuitous combination of numerous cosmic factors that together produced the special environment which enabled the emergence, persistence and evolution of life on our own planet, culminating in humanity. This environment has been subject to constant and chaotic change during life's 3.6 billion year history. The geologically very recent appearance of humans and their effect on the biosphere is discussed in relation to its deterioration as well as climate change. The search for extraterrestrial life is considered with a view to the suggestion that humans may escape a depleted Earth by colonizing the universe.

This book contributes to our understanding of astrobiology from the perspective of life on Earth and especially human welfare and survival. Astronomical and geological phenomena are related in turn to their biological relevance and impact. This introductory text assumes little or no prior knowledge of more specialized scientific fields and is designed for undergraduate and graduate level students taking related courses in departments of biology, earth science/geology, and environmental science. It will also serve as a useful biology primer for astronomy majors.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199205813
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
05/15/2009
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Symbols and abbreviations xv

1 What is life? Why water? 1

What is life? 1

Why water? 8

Summary 17

2 The universe from the perspective of biology 19

Some special units of measurement used in astronomy 21

Time 22

Biologicall significant events occurring in the universe 23

Stars 25

Galaxies 27

Planets of other star systems 30

Comets and asteroids 31

A brief survey of some other denizens of the universe 32

Galactic and Circumstellar Habitable Zones 33

Summary 35

3 The Solar System and life on Earth: I 37

Main components of the Solar System 37

Our star, the Sun 37

The heliosphere and solar wind 39

The Sun's short-wave EM radiation 39

Solar radiation and the temperature balance of the Earth's surface 43

Solar radiation and photosynthesis 44

Short-wave solar radiation, signals, and vision 45

The concept of a Circumstellar Habitable Zone (CHZ) 47

Planets of the Solar System and life on Earth 49

Some extraterrestrial sites in the Solar System which may support life 51

Summary 55

4 The Solar System and life on Earth: II 57

Comets and asteroids 57

Planetary satellites and life 58

Earth-a unique planet of the Solar System 64

Cosmic radiation and the solar wind 73

Summary 76

5 Early and present Earth and its circumnavigation of the Sun 79

Early Earth 79

Motions of Earth in its circumnavigation of the Sun 87

Significance of the Moon to life on Earth 91

Jupiter-Earth's guardian angel (perhaps) 93

Summary 95

6 Origin of life and photosynthesis 97

What do we know, what can we know of the origin of life? 97

Panspermia 100

The empirical 'bottom-up' approach to understanding the 'rapid' appearanceof life. Can we produce life in a test tube? 102

Some conjectures 105

Hypotheses concerning the origin of life on Earth 107

The origin of photosynthesis 109

The evolution of photosynthesis 109

Consequences of lack of birth control in plants 112

Summary 114

7 Setting the stage for the evolution of life on a tumultuous planet 115

Earth's third atmosphere' 116

Oxygen, UV radiation, and early ice ages 118

Some biological effects of the oxygen revolution 119

Carbon dioxide in Earth's third atmosphere 122

Composition of Earth's atmosphere in the late Quaternary period 123

Major stress factors which affected the evolution of life 125

Mass extinctions in the fossil record: local and planet-wide catastrophes 130

Conclusions 134

Summary 135

8 Mechanisms of evolution: from first cells and extremophiles to complex life 137

The dating problem 137

Timing of the main events in evolution 138

Some early ideas about evolution 138

Some recent theories of the mechanism of evolution 143

The continuing coevolution of molecular biology and evolutionary theory 147

Extremophiles 149

Summary 154

9 The evolution of humans and their interaction with the biosphere 157

Human origins 157

Human population 160

Homo sapiens sapiens (horribilis horribilis?) and the biosphere 164

Politically correct environmental science 171

How many people can the world support? 181

A note on land and energy resources 182

Summary 184

10 In search of extraterrestrial life 187

A short history of the origins of astrobiology 188

The search for extraterrestrial life today 192

Why not fly there and see for ourselves? 193

Creating a micro-biosphere, to enable humans to travel in space 195

Limitations to the exploration of space with robotic probes 199

What is the probability of there being other intelligent civilizations in the universe? 200

Human spaceflight to extra-solar star systems 206

Summary 207

Epilogue 209

Appendix-A A workshop guide 211

Appendix-B Notes added 'in press' 215

References and Resources 217

Index 231

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