What is the origin of life? Does it exist on other worlds? These two cosmological questions have captivated human curiosity for as long as we have had the capacity to wonder. These are questions that unify us. For most of our history, our conversations and explorations of these ideas have been imaginative, cultural, and philosophical. They have not been grounded in evidence or testable hypotheses. For most people, questions about our origins or life beyond Earth seem more at home in science fiction books and movies than in academic journals or laboratories. That is changing. With the last decades’ ever-increasing paces of research and knowledge generation in biochemistry, physics, aerospace engineering, planetary science, astronomy, and a host of other fields, these ancient questions that push the limits of our humanity are becoming scientifically tractable and central to the interdisciplinary field of astrobiology. Scientists around the world are on the verge of answering these questions, and many of them are at Georgia Tech.
Many of the world leaders in astrobiology research are Georgia Tech faculty, and recent discoveries by Georgia Tech scientists have raised the possibilities of life on Mars and Europa. Expertise in diverse fields including origins chemistry and planetary science are collected on this Atlanta campus. We seek to bring these researchers together with scholars in the humanities and social sciences into a community that celebrates the work of astrobiologists and shares it with the public in its broader cultural context.
When we cast our gaze into the night sky and ask what we might find, we are confronted with out smallness and the limitations of our knowledge; we are confronted with our impermanence. Because of their necessary vision, the most profound optimism is made manifest in the scientific explorations of those looking beyond our planet. These investigations unify us in a sense of smallness and underscore our vulnerability. They compel us not only to keep exploring, but to protect the awesome vitality of the planet Earth.