a brief



Kevin W. Plaxco and Michael Gross:
Astrobiology. A Brief Introduction
Johns Hopkins University Press June 2006,
Hardback: ISBN 0-801-88366-0, $ 65.00, pp. 259
Paperback: ISBN 0-801-88367-9, $ 24.95, pp. 259



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Table of contents


1. What is life?

1.1 Life, its definition and requirements
1.2 Definition of life
1.3 Limitations of our definition of life
1.4 Requirements for life
1.5 A lucky break?

2. The making of a habitable universe

2.1 Big Bang
2.2 Formation of first galaxies and stars; re-ionization
2.3 Nucleosynthesis and the origins of the heavier elements
2.4 Stellar and galactic requirements for the origins of life
2.5 Conclusions
SIDEBAR I: The density of the Universe.
SIDEBAR II: The anthropic principle
SIDEBAR III: Weighing the probabilities

3. The making of a habitable planet

3.1 The proto-Sun
3.2. How planets form
3.3. Origin of the Moon
3.4. So where did all this water come from?
3.5. What happened to Venus?
3.6. Conclusions
SIDEBAR I: Radioisotopic dating
SIDEBAR II: Weighing the probabilities

4. Primordial soup

4.1 Volatile inventory
4.2 Chemistry of a primordial planet
4.3 Miller-Urey chemistry
4.4 Miller-Urey synthesis of amino acids
4.5 Prebiotic synthesis of the nucleobases
4.6 The missing ingredients: sugars and fats
4.7 Potential non-Miller-Urey sources of life's building blocks
4.8 Prebiotic polymerization
SIDEBAR I. An Earth-Biology Primer
SIDEBAR II. Weighing the probabilities

5. The spark of life

5.1 Panspermia ?
5.2 Metabolism first
5.3 Genes first
5.4 RNA first
5.5 Problems with RNA first
5.6 Conclusions
SIDEBAR I: The origins of homochirality
SIDEBAR II. Weighing the probabilities

6. From molecules to cells

6.1 The RNA world
6.2 Polypeptides join the fold
6.3 The genetic code
6.4 DNA archives
6.5 Enzymes and metabolic networks
6.6 Which came first, proteins or DNA?
6.7 Wrapping it up
6.8 Conclusions
Sidebar I: Was there another way?

7. A concise history of life on Earth

7.1. How old is cellular life?
7.2 When did LUCA live?
7.3 How photosynthesis changed the world
7.4 The world's first environmental catastrophe
7.5 The advent of aerobic metabolism.
7.6 Eukaryotes: bigger and better cells
7.7 Stepping up to multicellular life
7.8 Explosions and extinctions
7.9 Conclusion
SIDEBAR I: The dating game
Sidebar II. Weighing the probabilities

8. Life on the edge

8.1 The art of living dangerously
8.2 Thermophiles
8.3. Cold adaptation
8.4 Drought and salinity
8.5 Extremes of pH
8.6 Going under
8.7 Conclusions
Sidebar I: Stress proteins
Sidebar II: Commercial interest in extremophiles

9. Habitable worlds in the Solar System and beyond

9.1 Abodes of life elsewhere in the Solar System?
9.2 Mars: from "Canali" through to the Mars Rovers
9.3 Astrobiological interest in the moons of the gas giants
9.4 The search for planets around other stars
9.5 Conclusions
Sidebar I: Sniffing out habitats

10. The search for ET

10.1 Looking for life
10.2 Search for life on Mars
10.3 Post-Viking exploration of Mars
10.4 Have Martian microbes landed on Earth ?
10.5 Astrobiology in the outer Solar System
10.6 The search for life beyond the Solar System
10.7 Search for intelligent life
SIDEBAR I: From Mars to Earth
SIDEBAR II: Weighing the probabilities


- Further Reading
- Index



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Of related interest:

Michael Gross:
Life on the Edge. Amazing Creatures Thriving in Extreme Environments
Paperback (with a new afterword): Perseus Books January 2001, ISBN 0-738-20445-5, $ 15.00, 210 + xiii pp.

Life on the Edge paperback



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