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Nordita

NORDITA

Astrobiology is a new and dynamic topic, which covers many subfields within astronomy and touches upon areas where astronomy interfaces with biology, biochemistry, geology, biophysics and geophysics. Finland founded a national astrobiology network earlier this year and Sweden formed one the year before. The European Exo/Astrobiology Network Association (EANA) was founded in 2000. Currently we are getting involved in forming an astrobiology research training network, under the EU's 6th framework program. Having a Nordic network may strengthen our position in this effort both nationally and internationally. It may also serve as a starting point for a proposal to NorFA for a Nordic Network. The timeliness of a possible Nordic Project proposal to Nordita is also indicated by the fact that the national astrobiology networks in Sweden and Finland have only been initiated recently, and that there will even be an international bioastronomy meeting in Iceland next year, and there is currently a proposal to NorFA (PI: Birgitta Nordström) for a Summer School on astrobiology. Also, over 100 planetary systems have been found since 1995, providing a much better chance of understanding planet formation both within and outside the possible habitable zone. Finally, the astrophysics group at Nordita is very interested in this topic and would like to start up collaborations within the topic.

Astrobiology is interdisciplinary, and there exists relevant expertise in various subfields, but in order to make a contribution to the field we need to bring the expertise from different subfields together. Something like 2 meetings per year for 2-3 days with talks and room for discussions can be very useful. Experience shows that some new collaborations will naturally emerges from such activity -- even if this happens years after the duration of the project.

In preliminary discussions we have begun to isolate a few fields of interest. There is no need to restrict the list to these topics; some may be obsolete and others can be proposed instead. This list is not meant to reflect our existing level of experience around this topic. Instead, it is meant to reflect topics that are not just remotely connected with Astrobiology, but that are clearly relevant, exciting, and hopefully feasible.

In broad terms, we have in mind questions relevant to the origin of life and to the possible existence of life elsewhere in the universe.

(i) What controls the habitability of other planets and exoplanets or their satellites? How does one go about modelling the evolution of their atmospheres and possibly their oceans, how does the atmospheric composition and gas content change with time? How important are volcanic activity and plate tectonics? How can we predict these for bodies of other planetary systems?

(ii) What is the relevance of impacts from meteors and comets. What is the effect on the origin and evolution of species? How do we model impacts? How and where do comets or meteorites break up, and how do dust and possibly living cells evolve in the atmosphere? Can we predict the induced climatic changes? What are the effects on the ecosystems?

(iii) Do we understand the evolutionary mechanisms of life? What is known about growing life from scratch? What are the involved timescales on Earth and elsewhere, and how can this be modelled?

(iv) Can we recognize signatures of life on other worlds? Do we know which signatures to look for?

In general, the possibility of modelling and prediction making hinges on the availability of hard tests. The field is just so broad and complex that not all the facts may be known to everybody, so getting interested people together is a necessary first step.

© Astrobiology Centre at Stockholm University
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