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.
1: What is Life? Why Water?
2: The Universe from the Perspective of Biology
3: The Solar System and Life on Earth (a).
4: The Solar System and Life on Earth (b).
5: Early and Present Earth and its Circumnavigation of the Sun
6: Origin of Life and Photosynthesis
7: Setting the Stage for the Evolution of life on a Tumultuous Planet
8: Mechanisms of Evolution: from First Cells to Complex Life and Extremophiles
9: The Evolution of Humans and their Interactions with the Biosphere
10: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life
Appendix (A Workshop Guide)
The author has chosen to focus on Earth life, our place in the universe and, uniquely for an astrobiology textbook, our future existence in light of our continuing environmental impact. The writing style is informal and friendly; it has a thorough index and reference section, as well as a helpful guide to Internet resources. A nice addition is the 'workshop guide' for teaching the course, which will be especially useful for new professors.
- The Quarterly Review of Biology
"I found this book clearly-written, interesting, informative and stimulating. It is well constructed and logically ordered."
- The Astrobiology Society of Britain