288 pages, b/w illustrations
All life as we know it is carbon-based, and reliant on sources of liquid water and energy for its survival; it is also, of course, known from just one planet, the Earth – a world perfectly suited to host life. But across a Universe of at least 100 billion habitable, earth-like worlds, life cannot be restricted to just this one place? Or can it?
The Earth is just the right distance from the Sun – within the so-called 'Goldilocks zone' – and has a protective shielding atmosphere to allow for life to thrive. Life's journey in four billion years from single-celled organism to upright humanoids with the capacity to undertake missions to other planets is remarkable. But there is a chance that life exists (or existed) elsewhere in the Solar System, and recent discoveries of just how common planets are in other systems means it is highly likely that there is life does indeed occur on other planets.
How might life appear on these other worlds? It is possible to make best-guesses using facts rooted in physics, chemistry and biology, and by studying 'extremophiles', organisms such as nematodes and water bears that can survive in the harshest conditions that Earth can offer. Ultimately, we need to figure out what is next for humanity. Our logical move is to break free of the confines of the Earth and colonise another body in the Solar System, such as the Moon or Mars. How and when will we do this? Or is it all just science fiction?
These questions, in a nutshell, make up the core of astrobiology – the study of the origins and evolution and biology of life elsewhere in the universe, and the search for it. Goldilocks and the Water Bears is an accessible introduction to this most fascinating of all the astro-sciences – are we alone in the Universe? Goldilocks and the Water Bears looks at this and many other questions as the search for life elsewhere in the Universe goes on.
1. Welcome to the world of Astrobiology...
2. Carbon and Water-based Life Forms
3. How to Create a Planet Fit for Life
4. The Origins of Life
5. Alien worlds on your doorstep
6. Extremophiles: It's all relative
7. Life within the Solar System and Beyond
8. Extraterrestrial worlds: life, but not as we know it
9. Is there anyone out there?
10. The next generation
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Louisa Preston is an astrobiologist and planetary geologist, whose research has focused on Mars-like environments on Earth and the use of infrared spectroscopy to identify biosignatures of life. After her PhD in Astrobiology at Imperial, Louisa completed her first postdoc at Western University in Ontario, working on lunar space mission simulations; she then moved to The Open University to work on the creation of a global database of martian and lunar analogue environments for the European Space Agency. Louisa is a TED Fellow and gave a TED talk on the search for life on Mars in March of last year, and is a STEM-NET Ambassador, and has given dozens of lectures and talks on the search for extraterrestrial life. She is also a scientific advisor for the BBC's Horizon, Stargazing Live, and Dara O' Briain's Science Club, and has appeared on the BBC's The Sky at Night. Her writing credits include pieces for the The Times and New Scientist, and a regular blog for Nature's Soapbox Science.