Astrobiology—a Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling, Oxford
University Press, 2013 is one of several hundred titles in Oxford’s Very
Short Introduction series.
I hesitate to review this extraordinary book because it is so good.
David Catling, Professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences
and the Astrobiology Program at the University of Washington, Seattle,
has written a beautifully written, clear summary of all the basic
biology and astronomy you need to know in order to understand current
findings in astrobiology—“…a branch of science concerned with the study
of the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the possible variety of
life elsewhere.” (Catling’s definition.)

 

 

After a short review of other definitions of the term astrobiology and
its earliest history (Thales c.600 B.C.,) questioning whether “…we’re
alone in the universe,” Catling discusses attempts to define life, then
leads us gently into what we know about planets, stars, biochemistry,
genetics and the energy required to do life. Finally, he brings us up to
date on exoplanets and possibilities for life beyond Earth.

Here’s the spoiler: Europa is his choice as “…the best prospect for
life” in our solar system. Why? Read this wonderful book to get
acquainted with the science involved in the search for the nature of our
existence. Catling convinces us that “Astrobiology is here to stay.”

In his conclusion, Catling elaborates on the prospects for life in our
solar system. Earth will probably continue to host some form of life for
close to another billion years—particularly deep sea vent communities
and acid-loving sea critters, as well as multitudes of extremophiles and
resilient microbes. He speculates that “self-replicating genomes,”
perhaps RNA variants, will be “made in the lab.”

Out near Saturn, the moon Enceladus is a likely candidate with its tidal
heating to provide energy, its organic material, and liquid water. Its
jets have been sampled and found to contain hydrogen, which could be the
product of something alive, like methanogens producing methane from
hydrogen and carbon. So far phosphorus and sulfur have not been found,
but Saturn’s push-pull moves Enceladus around about 90feet ever 2 to 3
days, providing enough heat to give life a chance to take hold.

RELATED ARTICLE:   Astronauts to replace faulty electronics unit in unscheduled ISS spacewalk

(Recent links: www.csmonitor.com/Science/Spacebound and
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39592059)

Oxford author Catlling also suggests that a boat could be landed on the
polar organic lakes of Titan, and orbiters could study its surface and
subsurface ocean. Samples from Mars and Venus could tell us something
about life’s history there, if there has been any. And a Europan orbiter
and robotic samplers might find evidence of that Jovian moon’s go at
life.

Meanwhile, exoplanets with liquid water will no doubt continue to be
described in other solar systems—like the latest remarkable find:
TRAPPIST-1 with the outer three of its seven planets warm enough to
maintain liquid water and perhaps volcanic activity. These planets are
also far enough distant from their sun to avoid a runaway greenhouse
effect. New telescopes will soon help in the search, but already the
Webb Telescope has confirmed that two of TRAPPIST’s planets have no
life-stopping hydrogen or helium-dominated atmospheres.


Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA
ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)

Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-
http://ArchivesofVarok.com
Reviews of significant books- http://www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper
How the Hen House Turns- http://www.ladailypost.com
Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- http://caryneeper.com
Astrobiology- http://astronaut.com search:Who’s Out There

About The Author

Cary Neeper is an avid student of complexity theory, sustainability, steady-state economics, and the impact of cosmology on issues of science and religion. She grew up in the foothills of Hayward, California, where she helped rack dried fruit on her father’s 40-acre apricot ranch. After studying zoology/chemistry and religion at Pomona College and medical microbiology at the University of Wisconsin, she moved with her husband to northern New Mexico, where they raised their family. The Neepers still live in the Southwest with a friendly menagerie of dogs, fish, chickens, geese, ducks and a turkey called Little Bear. Cary plays string bass with local folk, symphony and jazz groups and tennis with local retired physicists. She paints landscapes in acrylics, including the cover art for her first Penscript title, The Webs of Varok. Cary's first novel and Webs of Varok prequel A Place Beyond Man was originally published in 1975 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, Dell, and Millington, London. Cary re-released A Place Beyond Man as an Author’s Guild Backinprint edition, now available from online booksellers. Its themes of sustainability and interspecies cooperation have now grown into new adventures for its human, elll and varok family as they travel the alternate 21st century Solar System in the five-volume Archives of Varok, coming from Penscript Publishing House in 2012–2014. Cary’s other works include two musical science fiction comedies “U.F.F.D.A.!” and “Petra and the Jay,” as well as newspaper and magazine articles, essays, short stories, and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor.