Astrobiology, what?

So what is Astrobiology? (After all, in science you should always start with your definitions).

Thankfully it’s very simple; astrobiology is the study of life in the Universe…

The quick-witted (and twat-ish) may quip that this sounds like a pretty useless science, as we haven’t actually found alien life yet, so how can we study it? Whilst the drunk and the insane may point-out that alien life has already found us, because they’ve met them… and got anal probed by them, but its all part of a government conspiracy but they’re the true creators of Atlantis etc etc (YouTube is full of this crazy shit)

Really astrobiology is about trying to understand what life is, how it got started, what conditions life needs to survive, and where life could potentially exist outside of Earth? To do this it combines lots of different sciences, like astronomy, geology and biology, and tries to answer some pretty fundamental questions and covers some pretty weird ideas. That’s what makes it fun.

As a science, astrobiology is the new kid on the block. Throughout history people have considered alien life, pretty much as soon as we realised some of those bright blobs in the sky were planets like Earth people began to theorize about alien life. Astrobiology really began as a science with Frank Drake, a scientist from Cornell University, who used a radio telescope to search for alien signals back in 1960. This was the fist act of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Since then the science has grown, and NASA itself founded its Astrobiology Centre in 1998. Today the science is continuing to grow, more scientists are entering the field, more Universities/Colleges are teaching astrobiology courses, and people are even writing blogs.

But isn’t this all just a waste of money and resources which could be better served addressing problems closer to home, like solving world poverty, saving the rain forests and making shampoo that gives your hair 17% extra shine? I could point out that so called ‘useless science projects’ actually create a lot of useful technology as a side-effect, the Space Race in the 1960’s led to CDs, microwaves and all kinds of other stuff, CERN even created the World Wide Web. But never mind all that, science shouldn’t be just about creating products, knowledge is important for knowledge’s sake, after all, if we questioned the usefulness of everything we did, we probably still be living in caves, like the Welsh.

However I do still want that jet pack Science promised me back in the 1950s. Where’s my f*cking jet pack?

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