The Search for Worlds Like Our Own
Journal article, 2010

The direct detection of Earth-like exoplanets orbiting nearby stars and the characterization of such planets particularly, their evolution, their atmospheres, and their ability to host life-constitute a significant problem. The quest for other worlds as abodes of life has been one of mankind's great questions for several millennia. For instance, as stated by Epicurus similar to 300 BC: "Other worlds, with plants and other living things, some of them similar and some of them different from ours, must exist.'' Demokritos from Abdera (460-370 BC), the man who invented the concept of indivisible small parts-atoms-also held the belief that other worlds exist around the stars and that some of these worlds may be inhabited by life-forms. The idea of the plurality of worlds and of life on them has since been held by scientists like Johannes Kepler and William Herschel, among many others. Here, one must also mention Giordano Bruno. Born in 1548, Bruno studied in France and came into contact with the teachings of Nicolas Copernicus. He wrote the book De l'Infinito, Universo e Mondi in 1584, in which he claimed that the Universe was infinite, that it contained an infinite amount of worlds like Earth, and that these worlds were inhabited by intelligent beings. At the time, this was extremely controversial, and eventually Bruno was arrested by the church and burned at the stake in Rome in 1600, as a heretic, for promoting this and other equally confrontational issues (though it is unclear exactly which idea was the one that ultimately brought him to his end). In all the aforementioned cases, the opinions and results were arrived at through reasoning-not by experiment. We have only recently acquired the technological capability to observe planets orbiting stars other than our Sun; acquisition of this capability has been a remarkable feat of our time. We show in this introduction to the Habitability Primer that mankind is at the dawning of an age when, by way of the scientific method and 21(st)-century technology, we will be able to answer this fascinating controversial issue that has persisted for at least 2500 years.

Bioastronomy

companion

Habitability

disk

extra-solar planets

giant planets

space

systems

Planet-detection methods

darwin

mission

project

stars

nulling interferometer

Terrestrial exoplanets

Author

M. Fridlund

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

C. Eiroa

Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (UAM)

T. Henning

Max Planck Society

T. Herbst

Max Planck Society

H. Lammer

Institut fur Weltraumforschung

A. Leger

University of Paris-Sud

René Liseau

Chalmers, Department of Radio and Space Science, Radio Astronomy and Astrophysics

F. Paresce

Istituto nazionale di astrofisica (INAF)

A. Penny

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Royal Observatory

A. Quirrenbach

Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory

H. Rottgering

Leiden University

F. Selsis

University of Bordeaux

G. J. White

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Open University

O. Absil

Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Grenoble

University of Liège

D. Defrere

University of Liège

C. Hanot

University of Liège

D. Stam

Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON)

J. Schneider

Observatoire de Paris-Meudon

G. Tinetti

University College London (UCL)

A. Karlsson

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

P. Gondoin

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

R. den Hartog

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

L. D'Arcio

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

A. M. Stankov

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

M. Kilter

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

C. Erd

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA ESTEC)

C. Beichman

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

D. Coulter

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

W. Danchi

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

M. Devirian

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

K. J. Johnston

US Naval Observatory

P. Lawson

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

O. P. Lay

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

J. Lunine

University of Arizona

L. Kaltenegger

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Astrobiology

1531-1074 (ISSN)

Vol. 10 1 5-17

Subject Categories

Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology

Roots

Basic sciences

DOI

10.1089/ast.2009.0380

More information

Latest update

8/23/2019