, Volume 129, Issue 1-3, pp 7-34

The Geology and Habitability of Terrestrial Planets: Fundamental Requirements for Life

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Abstract

The current approach to the study of the origin of life and to the search for life elsewhere is based on two assumptions. First, life is a purely physical phenomenon closely linked to specific environmental conditions. From this, we hypothesise that when these environmental conditions are met, life will arise and evolve. If these assumptions are valid, the search for life elsewhere should be a matter of mapping what we know about the range of environments in which life can exist, and then simply trying to find these environments elsewhere. Second, life can be clearly distinguished from the non-living world. While a single feature of a living organism left in the rock record is not always sufficient to determine unequivocally whether life was present, life often leaves multiple structural, mineralogical and chemical biomarkers that, in sum, support a conclusion that life was present. Our understanding of the habitats that can sustain or have sustained life has grown tremendously with the characterisation of extremophiles. In this chapter, we highlight the range of environments that are known to harbour life on Earth, describe the environments that existed during the period of time when life originated on Earth, and compare these habitats to the suitable environments that are found elsewhere in our solar system, where life could have arisen and evolved.