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The Astrobiology of Alien Worlds: Known and Unknown Forms of Life

Irwin, Louis N.; Schulze-Makuch, Dirk

Zentrum fĂĽr Astronomie und Astrophysik

Most definitions of life assume that, at a minimum, life is a physical form of matter distinct from its environment at a lower state of entropy than its surroundings, using energy from the environment for internal maintenance and activity, and capable of autonomous reproduction. These assumptions cover all of life as we know it, though more exotic entities can be envisioned, including organic forms with novel biochemistries, dynamic inorganic matter, and self-replicating machines. The probability that any particular form of life will be found on another planetary body depends on the nature and history of that alien world. So the biospheres would likely be very different on a rocky planet with an ice-covered global ocean, a barren planet devoid of surface liquid, a frigid world with abundant liquid hydrocarbons, on a rogue planet independent of a host star, on a tidally locked planet, on super-Earths, or in long-lived clouds in dense atmospheres. While life at least in microbial form is probably pervasive if rare throughout the Universe, and technologically advanced life is likely much rarer, the chance that an alternative form of life, though not intelligent life, could exist and be detected within our Solar System is a distinct possibility.