Federal Centre for Complexity and Exobiology


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What is exobiology?

Exo/Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. It brings a common, biological perspective to such diverse fields as biochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology, ecology, physical chemistry, geology, planetary science and space technology by focusing on three main issues:

  • How did life appear and how did it evolve?
  • Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?
  • What is the future of life on earth and beyond?

The origin of stars, planetary systems, life in our solar system and possibly elsewhere in the Universe are research topics that have aroused great interest among scientists. The discoveries of proto-planetary disks around other stars and the detection of exoplanets give evidence that the formation of extrasolar systems could be a common process throughout the Universe.

Biogenic elements such as C, H, O, N, S, and P are known to be widespread in our Galaxy and beyond. The search for organic molecules in interstellar and circumstellar environments, their incorporation into potential planet-forming disks and subsequently in solar system material has been successfully investigated within the last decade.

The origin of life on planet Earth might have proceeded from simple precursor molecules to more complex self replicating, metabolizing structures, evolving into primitive life. Extraterrestrial delivery of organic matter and water by comets and asteroids shortly after planetary formation may have triggered the emergence of life on Earth and possibly on Mars. The research on the origin and distribution of life in the Universe led to a new scientific field, named Exo/Astrobiology, which is attracting a great number of scientists.

Exo/Astrobiology currently meets great success both because of its cultural appeal and because of its unifying role in bringing efforts and competences together and in stimulating further progress through this cross-fertilization.

Major Astrobiology centers are to be found in USA under the aegis of NASA and also in Australia . Within the European Union, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the UK are countries that have recently invested considerable funds. The interest of the European scientific community in the subject has also given rise to the creation of EANA, the European Exo/Astrobiology Network Association.

Belgium has a long-standing tradition in geosciences and space research. Belgian researchers have made pioneering contributions to atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric energetics and thermodynamics, chaos theory as applied to meteorology, climate modeling, data assimilation methods and life sciences.

Furthermore, they have participated in the past and are currently actively participating in several international projects on microgravity, planetology, astrophysics and geodesy under the aegis of ESA. These activities are important ingredients of Exo/Astrobiology research thereby providing a first hand experience to the Belgian community in view of contributing efficiently to further developments in the field.

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