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Criteria for the emergence and evolution of life in the solar system

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During the past years we have explored most of the bodies of the solar system by means of the Apollo, Venera, Viking, Voyager, and other space missions. We are now in a better position to be able to compare the conditions of other planets and satellites with those of the Earth in order to determine what is unique about our planet which permitted the emergence and evolution of life on it. On the basis of this and other available scientific information we have arrived at the conclusion that there are at least some twentyfive specific conditions or requirements which have to be fulfilled in order for life as we know it to appear and evolve in a planetary system such as ours. Most of these necessary conditions or requirements are mutually interdependent, but in order to discuss their role in depth they have been divided into five major general areas which are discussed in some detail herein.

Planetary criteria, which relate to the physical properties of the planet as it is formed and as it becomes a differentiated cosmic body and potential abode of life. The mass, orbital characteristics and energetic relationships with the central star as well as the discrete separation of gas, liquid and solid phases of the planet are of utmost importance.

Chemical criteria, which are concerned with the composition, availability of effective energy sources, and chemical constrainst (solvent, pH range, redox potential) of the environment(s) where reactions take place for the prebiological formation of biochemical compounds.

Protobiological criteria, which relate to the prebiologically synthesized oligomeric and polymeric biomolecules, how they interact cooperatively to form protobiological structures and functions (replication, catalysis, information transfer, etc.) and self-assemble to give rise to a living system.

Evolutionary criteria, which are concerned with the processes responsible for the increase in complexity of organisms by genomic multiplication, symbiotic integration and cellular differentiation, as well as with the negentropic ability of organisms to continuously recycle all the volatile biogenic elements. Altogether these processes made possible the development and evolution of life from the simplest prokaryotic cell ancestor to a cognitive and manipulative multicellular organism (man).

In order to extend this inquiry to other systems beyond our solar system a fifth set of requirements based on astronomical observations is also discussed, namely, theStellar criteria, which relate to the elemental composition mass, lifetime, and other features of Main Sequence stars which may be surrounded by planetary systems similar to our own. Finally, a brief review is made on the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial life as well as of civilizations capable of interstellar communication in our Galaxy.

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Oró, J., Rewers, K. & Odom, D. Criteria for the emergence and evolution of life in the solar system. Origins Life Evol Biosphere 12, 285–305 (1982). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00926900

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  • Solar System
  • Planetary System
  • Central Star
  • Biogenic Element
  • Astronomical Observation