Which Scientists Are Searching for Life on Other Planets?

And how is this related to the development of interdisciplinary scientific fields?

faq | June 17, 2024

On one hand, life is a subject of biological research. On the other hand, biologists know little about space, which is the exclusive domain of astrophysicists. However, it is well known that scientists are researching to find life beyond Earth. Who is involved in this endeavor?

Exoplanet research is a collaborative endeavor that draws in specialists from various fields. For instance, a chemist might study objects in the Solar System or investigate the interstellar medium or stellar envelopes, contributing to the emerging field of astrochemistry. A geography graduate might defend a thesis on the physics of Earth’s atmosphere and later study the atmospheres of exoplanets. The research methods for Mars have already diverged from classical astronomy and now resemble geophysicist methods. Over time, many other scientists currently working in physics, biology, and chemistry with an Earth-centric focus will inevitably expand their research to include other celestial bodies, including those outside the Solar System.

The work of scientists who model Earth’s paleoclimate is crucial for our understanding of our planet and the search for life beyond Earth. Their role is significant because, beyond our Solar System, the search for life will largely depend on the analysis of exoplanet atmospheres. It is anticipated that many habitable planets will resemble not modern Earth but our planet as it was several billion years ago. While astrophysicists and climatologists are currently at the forefront of exoplanet research, the future holds the potential for geologists and biologists to also contribute. Excitingly, scientists may soon be able to gather data on the properties of the interiors of various exoplanets, necessitating the creation of geological models for such processes.

Thus, studying exoplanet habitability is an interdisciplinary task, just as studying the Solar System has already become interdisciplinary. Moreover, in the long term, the study of exoplanets will merge with the study of Solar System planets, which is already closely linked to historically “Earth-bound” scientific fields.

Studying exoplanet habitability broadens our understanding of the universe and enhances the practical significance of astrophysics for studying Earth. One of today’s most ambitious scientific endeavors is constructing a model of the Earth’s global climate behavior. However, the development of climate science has its challenges. Scientists require a more diverse range of data to test various aspects of climate models. Information about the characteristics of atmospheres on different planets under various conditions could provide invaluable insights into the processes occurring on Earth today. This not only piques interest but also has the potential to attract more scientific talent and investments, further advancing our understanding of both Earth and exoplanets.

Associate research officer, ICTP, Trieste
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