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The Science of Astrobiology: A Personal View on Learning to Read the Book of Life


Since the publication of The New Science of Astrobiology in the year 2001—the first edition of the present book—two significant events have taken place raising the subject from the beginning of the present century to its present maturity. Firstly, in 2001 the Galileo Mission still had two years to complete its task, which turned out to be an outstanding survey of the Jovian system, especially of its intriguing satellite Europa. Secondly, the Cassini Huygens Mission was still on its way to Saturn. Its present ...

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Since the publication of The New Science of Astrobiology in the year 2001—the first edition of the present book—two significant events have taken place raising the subject from the beginning of the present century to its present maturity. Firstly, in 2001 the Galileo Mission still had two years to complete its task, which turned out to be an outstanding survey of the Jovian system, especially of its intriguing satellite Europa. Secondly, the Cassini Huygens Mission was still on its way to Saturn. Its present success has surpassed all expectations of ESA and NASA. Astrobiologists still did not know that Titan was the fifth body in the Solar System that possibly contained a water ocean (including the Earth and the three Galilean satellites other than Io). For these reasons the book includes overviews of the evolutionary and molecular biology that are necessary. There is a discussion of other sectors of culture that are the natural frontiers of astrobiology, especially the humanities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the reviews:

“Chela-Flores (Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy) supplies up-to-date reviews of the astronomy (so viewers will know where to aim telescopes), a survey of early life on Earth … and a survey of solar system candidates. … Overall, a good volume to have on one’s library shelf and to function as a required reference in astrobiology courses. Summing Up: Recommended. All academic, general, and professional audiences.” (K. L. Schick, Choice, Vol. 49 (6), February, 2012)

“I strongly recommend this book, written by a real humanist, to any open-minded reader eager to consider “classical” astrobiology in its philosophical context. The book offers a very rare occasion to access the full dimension of astrobiology: origin, evolution, distribution and destiny of life in the Universe.” (André Brack, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, March, 2012)

“While reading this book, the origin-of-life professional will recognize its useful organization and summary of various components of astrobiology. … I found this book instructive and mind-opening. … The author is very successful in conveying that much can be gained in astrobiology by merging science with philosophy.” (Radu Popa, Astrobiology, Vol. 12 (10), 2012)

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Product Details

Table of Contents

Preface; Acknowledgements; Recommendations to the readers
Introduction: The cultural and scientific context of astrobiology
I.1 Early attempts to read the Book of Life: Aristarchus of Samos and Hipparchus; Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus); Nicholas Copernicus; Giordano Bruno; Charles Darwin. I.2 Some pioneers of the science of astrobiology; Alexander Oparin; Stanley Miller; Sidney W. Fox; Cyril Ponnamperuma; John Oro, 1st Marquess of Oró. I.3 Three strategies for astrobiological exploration; I.4 Inserting philosophy into astrobiology; I.5 Emphasizing the role of biology in astrobiology; I.6 Inserting physics into biology especially in astrobiology; I.7 Inserting the earth sciences in astrobiology; I.8 New fingerprints of early life; I.9 Inserting paleontology into astrobiology; Supplementary Reading; References
The Book of Life
Part 1: The Origin of Life in the Universe
Chap.1. From cosmic to chemical evolution; 1.1 Beginnings of a rational cosmology based on physical constraints; 1.2 Cosmological models; 1.3 The cosmic microwave background; 1.4 The growth of studies of astrobiology; 1.5 Origin of the elements: from the big bang to the interior of stars; 1.6 Supernovae: the source of biogenic dust; 1.7 Molecular clouds and circumstellar disks; 1.8 Stellar and biological evolution; Supplementary Reading; References.
Chap.2. From chemical to prebiotic evolution; 2.1 Cosmochemistry; 2.2 Precursor biomolecules in interplanetary dust; 2.3 Cosmic dust and comets: their role in astrobiology; 2.4 Origin of the Solar System: the Rosetta mission; 2.5 Origin of the terrestrial planets; 2.6 Origin of the Jovian planets; 2.7 Origin of the moons in the outer Solar System; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap.3. Sources of life's origin: A search for biomarkers; 3.1 The Moon and its water content as a mirror of the early Earth; 3.2 Biogenic elements on asteroids; 3.3 Biogenic elements on comets; 3.4 Biogenic elements on meteorites; 3.5 The Murchison meteorite; 3.6 Biogenic elements in extreme terrestrial environments; 3.7 A terrestrial analog to Europa in Antarctica: The dry valley lakes; 3.8 A second terrestrial analog to Europa near the South Pole: Lake Vostok; 3.9 A third terrestrial analog to Europa in the Canadian Arctic; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap.4. From prebiotic evolution to the emergence of single cells; 4.1 Which are the macromolecules of life? 4.2 The primitive Earth; 4.3 The origin of the first cell; 4.4 A biochemical relic of the earliest stages of life; 4.5 Symmetry in the cosmos; 4.6 Symmetry in the life sciences: Asymmetry in the Animal World; Asymmetry in the Microscopic World: Chirality; Homochirality as a Biomarker of Life; Abdus Salam’s Vision of Symmetry in Nature; The Origin of Chirality and the Murchison Meteorite; 4.7 An analogy with languages: the genetic code; 4.8 The origin of cellular organelles; 4.9 From chemical to cellular evolution; 4.10 The influence of the ancient Sun on the early evolution of life; 4.11 Eventual deeper insights into the origin of life from solar missions; Supplementary Reading; References
Part 2: The Evolution of Life in the Universe
Chap. 5. From the age of prokaryotes to the emergence of eukaryotes; 5.1 Could prokaryotes have emerged on the early Earth 4,4 Gyr ago? 5.2 The dawn of unicellular organisms; 5.3 An early emergence of life makes the Moon a major target for astrobiology; 5.4 A unique event lost somewhere deep in the Archean; 5.5 The evolution of the Earth's atmosphere: The Great Oxidation Event; 5.6 The role of oxygen and iron in eukaryogenesis; 5.7 First appearance of metazoans in the Paleoproterozoic; 5.8 The origin of chromosomes; 5.9 The Molecular Clock hypothesis; 5.10 A transition in the pathway towards intelligence; 5.11 In which environments can extremophiles survive in our Solar System? 5.12 Mechanisms of evolution beyond natural selection; 5.13 The adaptation of life to extreme environments; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 6. Eukaryogenesis and evolution of intelligent behavior; 6.1 Modern taxonomy emphasizes single-celled organisms; 6.2 The phenomenon of the eukaryotic cell; 6.3 The phenomenon of multicellularity; 6.4 Evolution of hominoids; 6.5 Evolution of intelligent behavior in the hominids; 6.6 Did external events contribute to the evolution of intelligence on Earth? 6.7 The pathway towards communication; 6.8 The emergence of language and music in modern humans; Supplementary Reading; References
Part 3: The Distribution of Life in the Universe
Chap. 7. On the possibility of biological evolution on Mars; 7.1 What have we learnt from previous missions to Mars? 7.2 An Eden-like early Martian environment; 7.3 The early Viking Missions; 7.4 Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner Rover; 7.5 The Mars Global Surveyor; 7.6 Mars Express; 7.7 The Phoenix Mission; 7.8 The question of the origin, evolution and distribution of Martian life; 7.9 Mars Odyssey and the Exploration Rover “Opportunity”;7.10 Is methane a possible biomarker in the Martian atmosphere? 7.11 Testing for life on Mars on terrestrial analogs; 7.12 Mars in the second and third decades of the 21st century; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 8. On the possibility of biological evolution on the moons of Jupiter; 8.1 The discovery of Europa; 8.2 The Galileo mission; 8.3 Tentative inventory of organic elements in the Europan ocean; 8.4 The habitability of Europa; 8.5 What are the constraints on the putative Europan biotope? 8.6 Technological challenges for reading further into the Book of Life: The Original Hydrobot-Cryobot; Advanced Design for Hydrobots, Penetrators; Surficial Landers for Europa; 8.7 Returning to the Jovian System; 8.8 Are there biosignatures revealing a second biology on Europa? 8.9 Sulfur patches and space weather in the neighborhood of Europa; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 9. On the possibility of biological evolution on the moons of Saturn; 9.1 The discovery of Titan; 9.2 The Voyagers: The first missions to Saturn and Titan; 9.3 The Cassini-Huygens Mission; 9.4 Titan and Enceladus; 9.5 The atmosphere and hydrosphere of Titan; 9.6 Titan's surface; 9.7 Is there a liquid ocean on Titan? 9.8 The plumes and habitability of Enceladus; 9.9 An eventual return to Titan and Enceladus; 9.10 The habitability of Titan; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 10. How different would life be elsewhere in the universe? 10.1 Possible degrees of evolution of life; 10.2 The search for other solar systems; 10.3 How are extrasolar planets found? 10.4 Which are likely habitable zones? 10.5 The multiplicity of exoplanets in our galactic neighborhood; 10.6 What is a planet? 10.7 The CoRoT mission; 10.8 The Kepler mission; 10.9 The discovery of the first super-Earths in habitable zones; 10.10 Exomoonology: the habitability of satellites around other stars; 10.11 Potentially habitable worlds: planets like Earth; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 11. The search for exointelligence in worlds around other stars; 11.1 What is our place in the universe? 11.2 Intelligent behavior is intimately related with the need to communicate; 11.3 The Drake Equation; 11.4 Progress in instrumentation; 11.5 SETI on the Moon; 11.6 From the first neuron to brains; 11.7 Beyond geocentricism; 11.8 The Fermi Paradox; 11.9 SETI: towards the future; Supplementary Reading; References
Part 4: The Destiny of Life in the Universe
Chap. 12. Is the destiny of life inexorably linked with intelligence? 12.1 The origin of the neuron: a first step in the evolution of intelligence; 12.2 The origin of metazoans: a second step in the evolution of intelligence; 12.3 Convergence and contingency in evolutionary biology; 12.4 Biological evolution on other worlds; 12.5 Evolution of intelligent behavior in aquatic media; 12.6 Testing the evolution of microorganisms in the Solar System; 12.7 Precursors of the evolution of exointelligence—where should we look? 12.8 Can the origin of metazoans be detected elsewhere in the Solar System? 12.9 Back to Europa for further constraining the Drake Equation; 12.10 Convergence between SETI and the exploration of our Solar System; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 13. Cultural frontiers of astrobiology; 13.1 The frontiers of science, philosophy and theology; 13.2 Positivism and the Vienna Circle; 13.3 Position of humans in the totality of all earthly species; 13.4 Is evolution more than a hypothesis? 13.5 What is specific to a human being? 13.6 Are there trends in evolution? 13.7 Cultural implications of discovering extraterrestrial life; 13.8 Relevance and implications of discovering life elsewhere; 13.9 Consequences of other intelligent behavior; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 14. When astrobiology meets philosophy; 14.1 Pasteur, Darwin and Wallace; 14.2 A philosophical issue: design in biology; 14.3 Towards a common interest in astrobiology and the humanities; 14.4 Is there life elsewhere in the universe? 14.5 Can our intelligence be repeated elsewhere? 14.6 Some of the larger issues when philosophy meets astrobiology; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 15. Why we may be unable to read the complete Book of Life; 15.1 Evolution of the universe and its contents including the living process; 15.2 Constraints on the universality of biology; 15.3 Extending Newton’s mechanics into the microscopic domain; 15.4 From quantum electrodynamics to quantum chromodynamics; 15.5 The unification of elementary forces; 15.6 Hopes for clarification from new instrumentation; 15.7 Influential steps other than quantum field theory; 15.8 String theory as a basis for reading the Book of Life; 15.9 Questions that lie in the frontier where astrobiology meets philosophy; Supplementary Reading; References
Chap. 16. An intelligible universe with the science of astrobiology; 16.1 The meaning of reality; 16.2 The Philosophy of Kant and Hegel; 16.3 Is the universe a well-determined ordered system? 16.4 Logical positivism and consilience; 16.5 Are we approaching the end of biogeocentrism? 16.6 Is reductionism inevitable in the physical and in the life sciences? 16.7 Difficulties reading Part 3 of the Book of Life; 16.8 Perhaps the Third Part of the Book of Life can be intelligible; Supplementary Reading; References
Epilogue: Learning to read the Book of Life: An interdisciplinary process; Acronyms and abbreviations
Illustrated glossary; General index; Index of illustrations; Index of Tables; Alphabetical index; About the author; Books by the author

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