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The Habitability Primer—A First-of-Its-Kind Guide to the Search for Planets that can Support Life

New Rochelle, March 23, 2010–Years of astrobiological research and discussion have culminated in a startling conclusion: it is now technologically possible to detect and study Earth-like planets that exist outside our Solar System. A comprehensive description of the science behind the field of exoplanetology is presented in the “Habitability Primer” in a special issue of Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc (www.liebertpub.com). The issue is available free online at www.liebertpub.com/ast

“After thousands of years of speculation about our role in the Universe, it has now become possible, with the use of 21st century technology, to understand the fundamentals of our existence and, perhaps, the existence of other life forms beyond the confines of Earth,” write Malcolm Fridlund, from the European Space Agency (the Netherlands), and Helmut Lammer, from the Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Graz, Austria, in their Introduction to the issue.

The Primer explains the scientific goals of exoplanetology, as defined by the Terrestrial Exoplanet Science Advisory Team (TE-SAT). It includes articles on a variety of topics, including a description of the search for planets like Earth and what makes a planet habitable, how planetary systems form and evolve, the origin and evolution of life on terrestrial planets, how atmospheres, life, and climate co-evolve, and the characteristics of stars targeted for terrestrial planet-finding missions. The Primer also presents a roadmap for the detection and characterization of Earth-like planets and a futuristic look at the direct characterization of exoplanets.

“After 2500 years, mankind is on the eve of developing the technology for characterizing habitable worlds beyond our Solar System—the thoughts of the Greek philosophers such as Metrodorus of Chios (4th cent. BC), `A single ear of corn in a large field is as strange as a single world in infinite space.´ (Aëtius, Placita; 5.4) can be verified,” says Dr. Lammer.

“As our ability to search for signatures of life in other solar systems advances,” says Sherry L. Cady, PhD, Editor of Astrobiology and Associate Professor in the Department of Geology at Portland State University, “the universe becomes more intriguing than ever. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who grasps the concept of habitability and appreciates the efforts now being made to search for life elsewhere could look to the sky without pondering what wonders await beyond our planetary system. We are fortunate to live in these times.