Astrobiology@UEA

The University of East Anglia has a small, but growing, astrobiology research group and this site will provide a portal to our research interests and means of contacting us. The undergraduate and master’s level course Earth and Life in the School of Environmental Sciences covers many topics of astrobiological relevance in an Earth-systems science framework.

What is astrobiology?

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

-NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)

NASA is recognised as the world leader in astrobiology research, and their vision for the future of investigation in this area, the Astrobiology Roadmap, is a driver for the direction of study. However, the UK has strong presence in astrobiology research, and are broadly represented by the UKCA (the UK Centre for Astrobiology, based at the University of Edinburgh and an Affiliate of the NAI) and the ASB (The Astrobiology Society of Britain). The UEA is a Research Affiliate Node of the UKCA.

Click to download the latest Astrobiology Roadmap (2008).

Frequently Asked Questions:

“So, you study aliens and little green men?”

No strong evidence of any form of life outside of the Earth has been detected to date, and very few astrobiologists would seriously endorse the idea that aliens have visited the Earth. Rather, astrobiology is concerned with identifying the factors that control the distribution of life in the Universe, and this remit extends to investigating the reasons why there is no evidence for other life out there, despite the sheer enormity of the galaxy and the existence of billions of ‘habitable’ planets. In fact, this question is one of the most famous in astrobiology, and is known as the Fermi Paradox.

“Do astrobiologists believe that life exists elsewhere?”

This is more a question of individual belief, and many scientists may have differing opinions on this question. It is one that has been considered since the dawn of civilisation by some of humanity’s greatest thinkers, philosophers and scientists. Same may say that considering the size of the universe, the ubiquity of habitable environments and the rapidity at which life established itself on the early Earth, the existence of life on other planets is a statistical likelihood. Others will counter this argument by noting that there are several factors that make the Earth a very unique planet, and the sequence of events that led to the genesis of life on Earth will likely never be repeated even given billions of planets and billions of years. The argument becomes more complex when you consider the factors that may control the existence and proliferation of ‘simple’ life (like prokaryotes) as opposed to ‘complex’ (eukaryotes) or even ‘intelligent’ life (Homo sapiens), and at a very fundamental level what exactly it is that constitutes ‘life’ itself.

“What do astrobiologists actually do?”

The field of astrobiology is broad and interdisciplinary. From the physics of star and planet formation, to the origin and evolution of life to climate science, geology, atmospheric science. Astrobiology even has several applications in the social sciences  and humanities; there are very many philosophical questions that the discipline raises, and these have been addressed by theologians, sociologists, futurists and economists, as well as being woven into imaginative tales by sci-fi authors and depicted by artists. Here at the UEA, our focus is primarily physical and focusses on the concept of planetary habitability and the ‘habitable zone’.

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