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Assembling LifeHow Can Life Begin on Earth and Other Habitable Planets?$
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David W. Deamer

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190646387

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190646387.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 24 October 2021

Prospects for Life on Other Planets

Prospects for Life on Other Planets

(p.154) 12 Prospects for Life on Other Planets
Assembling Life

David W. Deamer

Oxford University Press

This book describes a hypothetical process in which populations of protocells can spontaneously assemble and begin to grow and proliferate by energy- dependent polymerization. This might seem to be just an academic question pursued by a few dozen researchers as a matter of curiosity, but in the past three decades advances in engineering have reached a point where both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) routinely send spacecraft to other planetary objects in our solar system. A major question being pursued is whether life has emerged elsewhere than on Earth. The limited funds available to support such missions require decisions to be made about target priorities that are guided by judgment calls. These in turn depend on plausible scenarios related to the origin of life on habitable planetary surfaces. We know that other planetary bodies in our solar system have had or do have conditions that would permit microbial life to exist and perhaps even to begin. By a remarkable coincidence, the two most promising objects for extraterrestrial life happen to represent the two alternative scenarios described in this book: An origin of life in conditions of hydrothermal vents or an origin in hydrothermal fields. This final chapter will explore how these alternative views can guide our judgment about where to send future space missions designed as life-detection missions. Questions to be addressed: What is meant by habitability? Which planetary bodies are plausible sites for the origin of life? How do the hypotheses described in this book relate to those sites? There is healthy public interest in how life begins and whether it exists elsewhere in our solar system or on the myriad exoplanets now known to orbit other stars. This has fueled a series of films, television programs, and science fiction novels. Most of these feature extrapolations to intelligent life but a few, such as The Andromeda Strain, explore what might happen if a pathogenic organism from space began to spread to the human population. There is a serious and sustained scientific effort—SETI, or Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—devoted to finding an answer to this question.

Keywords:   Apollinaris Mons, Columbia Hills, Enceladus, Goldilocks principle, Home Plate, Spirit rover, habitability, plumes

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