37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 13 Education and Outreach
Poster, Monday, September 5, 2005, 6:00-7:15pm, Music Foyer

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[13.05] Planetary Science as Presented in Astrobiology Textbooks

D. Morrison (NASA Astrobiology Institute)

What is the relationship between astrobiology and planetary science?

Astrobiology is defined as the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. From this definition alone, one might not expect a large overlap with planetary science. In practice, however, much of current research in astrobiology deals with both our planetary system and exoplanets.

Many astrobiologists study the history of life on our own planet, and many others investigate the biochemical nature of life and study the life's adaptation to a wide range of environments. However, we have not yet detected any life beyond Earth, nor are there robust ``universal life detection" protocols. Consequently, much of astrobiology today involves issues of habitability as a prelude to later searches of life. Astrobiologists participate in the exploration of Mars, Europa, and Titan from the perspective of their past or present capability to support life. Astrobiology is often characterized in terms of the investigation of the planetary context for life (for example, in the ``follow the water" mantra for Mars).

Astrobiology courses at the college level are increasingly popular, especially as an introduction to multidisciplinary science. The four main college texts are The Search for Life in the Universe (Goldsmith & Owen, 2002), Life in the Universe (Bennett, Shostak & Jakosky, 2003), An Introduction to Astrobiology (Gilmore & Stephton, editors, 2004), and Astrobiology: A Multidisciplinary Approach (Lunine 2005). Each of these books covers planetary science extensively, as might be expected from the presence of planetary scientists among the authors. This poster provides a comparison of the coverage of the four texts and suggests that astrobiology courses may become a major venue for teaching college students about our solar system. For undergraduates, studying planets from the perspective of their habitability is an intriguing alternative approach to planetary science.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.