AAS 201st Meeting, January, 2003
Session 72. Physical Worlds, Biological Worlds, and Virtual Worlds
Invited, Tuesday, January 7, 2003, 3:40-5:10pm, 6AB

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[72.01] Astrobiology and the Biological Universe

S. J. Dick (USNO)

Four hundred years ago two astronomical world views hung in the balance: the geocentric and the heliocentric. Today astronomy faces a similar choice between two grand world views: a purely physical universe, in which cosmic evolution commonly ends in planets, stars and galaxies, and a biological universe, in which cosmic evolution routinely results in life, mind and intelligence. Astrobiology is the science providing the data to make this critical choice.

This 20th century overview shows how we have arrived at the view that cosmic evolution may have resulted in life and intelligence in the universe. It examines how our astronomical world view has changed over the last century, recalls the opinions of astronomical pioneers like Russell, Shapley, and Struve on life in the universe, and shows how planetary science, planetary systems science, origins of life studies and SETI have combined to form a new discipline. Astrobiology now commands $50 million in direct funding from NASA, funds 15 Astrobiology Institute members around the country and four affiliates around the world, and seeks to answer one of astronomy’s oldest questions.

Whether we live in a mostly physical universe, as exemplified in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, or in a biological universe, as portrayed in Arthur C. Clarke's works, this reality will have profound consequences, no less than the Copernican theory. Astrobiology also looks to the future of life; taking a long-term ``Stapledonian" view, it is possible we may live in a postbiological universe.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: dick.steve@usno.navy.mil

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