1: Orientation Day - your place in space and time
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In the past twenty years, thousands of exoplanets -- planets orbiting other stars -- have been detected by astronomers. These discoveries have given new impetus to the search for life beyond the Earth. A meaningful discussion of the origin of life and the methods for finding it elsewhere transcends any one scientific field. Thus, we are forced to reach across disciplines, studying astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. However, the study of life in the universe is more than just a scattershot collection of topics. We draw information from all of these disciplines to ponder intriguing and high-level questions: How did life arise on Earth? What are the requirements for habitability elsewhere? How will we find them? What is the fate of life, our solar system and the universe?
These are big questions that fundamentally affect the perspective of humankind and impact the way that we conduct ourselves as a species.
We agree that looking for aliens is good for society, even if they're not there. However, the framing of our questions betray an underlying bias on the part of the authors: the probability that life exists elsewhere is extremely high. We have not found it yet, but the universe is dauntingly vast. Given what we've learned about the origin of life on Earth, it is exceedingly unlikely that we are alone.