Nucleic acids may not be the only biomolecules in the Universe
capable of coding for life.
Astrobiology (other terms have been exobiology, exopa-
leontology, and bioastronomy) is the study of the origin,
evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.
This interdisciplinary field encompasses the search for
habitable environments in our Solar System and habit-
able planets outside our Solar System, the search for
evidence of prebiotic chemistry, life on Mars and other
bodies in our Solar System, laboratory and field research
into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and
studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on
Earth and in outer space.
Astrobiology makes use of physics, chemistry, astro-
nomy, biology, molecular biology, ecology, planetary
science and geology to investigate the possibility of life
on other worlds and help recognize biospheres that
might be quite different from the Earth’s. However,
astrobiology concerns itself with an interpretation of ex-
isting scientific data; given more detailed and reliable
data from other parts of the Universe, the roots of astro-
biology itself —biology, physics, chemistry— may have
their theoretical bases challenged. Much speculation is
entertained in the field to give context, and astrobiology
concerns itself primarily with hypotheses that fit firmly
into existing scientific theories.
It is not known whether life elsewhere in the Universe would
utilize cell structures like those found on Earth. (Chloroplasts
within plant cells shown here.)
The etymology of astrobiology comes from Greek
ἄστρον, astron, "constellation, star"; βίος, bios, "life"; and
-λογία, -logia, study. Although astrobiology is an emer-
ging field and still a developing subject, the question of
whether life exists elsewhere in the universe is a verifi-
able hypothesis and thus a valid line of scientific inquiry.
David Grinspoon, a planetary scientist, calls astrobiology
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