This book is the result of an interdisciplinary project at the Pufendorf Institute, Lund University. Twelve researchers from the same number of disciplines have been included in the project. The purpose has been to highlight the challenges that come with extraterrestrial, artificial and synthetic life. The interdisciplinary approach has given us the opportunity to highlight the questions from every conceivable angle, but also to find completely new combinations of methods and approaches.
Life is a central concept in many areas of research, for example in biology, astrobiology, chemistry and medicine, as well as in law, theology and philosophy. Life is also a central theme of art. It is treated and pondered in numerous works of art, in poetry, novel and film. How we understand, value and protect life is extremely fundamental. In the future, these issues will become even more difficult and, if possible, even more important. Research groups from all over the world today work to create life in the laboratory, look for life in space and provide machines with properties that have previously only been living creatures, and development is fast. It is important that we at the same time consider the challenges that this entails. It will take time to find ways to live in a world where life exists in forms we can hardly imagine today and where the boundary between living beings and machines becomes increasingly blurred. The decisions we make today will also affect the development of society, research and development for a long time to come.
I am happy to announce that the free preprint version of the “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today” white paper is now available for download from the European Astrobiology Institute website, section documents. The White paper, edited by K.A. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, was recently published through the SpringerBriefs in Astronomy book series, Springer, Cham (2018). The final authenticated version is available online from Springer’s Briefs in Astronomy series: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8
The European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) aspires to become a primary forum for the development of European Astrobiology ensuring that this relatively new interdisciplinary research field is established across Europe. The European Astrobiology Institute will be a consortium of European research and higher education institutions and organisations as well as other stakeholders aiming to carry out research, training, outreach and dissemination activities in astrobiology in a comprehensive and coordinated manner and thereby securing a leading role for the European Research Area in the field.
Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution and future of life on Earth and beyond, is a multidisciplinary field that has expanded rapidly over the last two decades. Now, a consortium of organisations has announced plans to establish a European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) to coordinate astrobiology research in Europe. The new institute is being created in accordance with the recommendations of a White Paper addressing the scientific and social implications of astrobiology research in Europe, presented today at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2018 in Berlin.
The White Paper includes contributions from authors in twenty countries and over thirty scientific institutions worldwide. The contributions draw on the experiences of other astrobiology research communities around the world and recognise the societal implications of the field as well as addressing the scientific goals.
“We are increasingly well-placed to answer major questions concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the origins of life on Earth and the evolution of our planet,” said Wolf Geppert, co-author of the White Paper chapter on leading the future of astrobiology in Europe. “By its nature, astrobiology is multidisciplinary field that requires collaboration. This White Paper shows that Astrobiology has the potential to be a flagship of European cooperation. The formation of the EAI will provide a structure that will bring together many organisations involved in the field to coordinate research and provide a proactive voice for the community.”
Missions and research programmes related to astrobiology have led to some of the most significant and high-profile discoveries in recent years. Thousands of planets have been discovered in other solar systems. The Rosetta mission confirmed a connection between comets an the life-supporting atmosphere on Earth. There is the potential that, in the near future, we will discover living or fossilized microbes on planets or moons within our own Solar System, or we could find signs of biological processes in exoplanetary systems.
“Regardless of whether or not we find evidence for life beyond Earth, astrobiology can provide paradigm-changing scientific advances in our understanding of our origins and our place in the Universe,” said Nigel Mason, who edited and co-authored the White Paper chapter on science and research. “Key areas of research identified in the White Paper include understanding the formation of habitable planets and moons, the pathway to produce the complex organics needed for life from simple molecules, how the conditions for life evolved on the early Earth and the study of life under extreme conditions.”
The White Paper includes sections on environmental protection and sustainability, current regulation, education, training, careers, technical innovation and commerce. In particular, the White Paper emphasises the role of social sciences and humanities in astrobiology and how the field has the capacity to change the view of how humans look at themselves and what it means to be alive.
“Astrobiology has clear existential implications. The social sciences and humanities can play a key role in helping us to prepare for the discovery of life beyond Earth, whether microbial or intelligent, and to understand the likely theological, ethical and worldview impacts on society,” said Klara Anna Čápová, co-editor of the White Paper and author of chapters on the social study of astrobiology as a science and public understanding of astrobiology. “Astrobiology is a subject of intrinsic interest to the general public and to school students but it is also vulnerable to misinterpretation. The formation of the EAI will enable us to make sure that reliable information is distributed to Europe’s citizens and classrooms and that they are actively engaged with the field.”
Astrobiology also presents environmental challenges in ensuring that any extraterrestrial life forms or remains are not compromised by scientific investigations (forward planetary protection), and protecting the Earth from contamination by potentially harmful biological material of extraterrestrial origin (backward planetary protection).
“The preservation of biodiversity and of pristine environments on Earth is of the greatest importance for our ability to study life, its origin, distribution and future. Both forward and backward planetary protection must be understood within a broader context of ensuring the sustainability of scientific and commercial practices,” said Erik Persson, co-editor of the White Paper and author of chapters on the international context of astrobiology and environment and sustainability.
An interim board has been established to map out the tasks, structure, governing bodies, activities, funding and administration of a EAI. The presentation of the White Paper at EPSC 2018 is the first step in a community consultation on its recommendations and plans for the EAI. The formal launch of the EAI is planned for the spring of 2019.
The White Paper “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today”, edited by K. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, is published through the SpringerBriefs in Astronomy book series, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The final authenticated version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8
This White Paper describes the state of astrobiology in Europe today and its relation to the European society at large. With contributions from authors in twenty countries and over thirty scientific institutions worldwide, the document illustrates the societal implications of astrobiology and the positive contribution that astrobiology can make to European society.
The White Paper:
Presents an overview of the status of astrobiology today
Places astrobiology in a societal context
Written by the leading European scientists and scholars in the field
Strongly oriented towards policy formation
Helps the reader make informed decisions about science and policy
The White paper has two main objectives: 1. It recommends the establishment of a European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) as an answer to a series of challenges relating to astrobiology but also European research, education and the society at large. 2. It also acknowledges the societal implications of astrobiology, and thus the role of the social sciences and humanities in optimizing the positive contribution that astrobiology can make to the lives of the people of Europe and the challenges they face.
This book is recommended reading for science policymakers, the interested public, and the astrobiology community.
The White Paper “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today”, edited by K.A. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, is published through the SpringerBriefs in Astronomy book series, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The final authenticated version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8
Getting the Message Across. Science in Search for Life Beyond Earth, a poster presented at the Postgraduate Anthropology Conference (May 9, 2014) Durham University, Department of Anthropology, UK. The poster introduces the science in search for life beyond earth as a case study of a dynamic scientific practice and presents reflections on this practice in global popular culture and mass media. The ‘search’ is a temporal practice that is also culturally biased and takes place in societal context. The poster presents a case study of how the visual evidence can be used and utilised in writing about science and global popular culture.
My chapter gives a brief overview of representations of human life on NASA’s 1972 Pioneer Plaque and the 1977 Voyager Golden Record. These spacecrafts carry messages informing about life on Earth. What information was included? How were humans introduced? What methods were used to communicate the message? And, do those messages really speak on behalf of humans of our planet? After the overview of NASA’s two interstellar messages, the chapter examines the message designs and analyses ‘story of human life’. Using the anthropology of science approach, the chapter shows that is was science as the fundamental concept that shaped the composition of both the Pioneer and Voyager messages.
Excited to be at the EGU conference to present the prefinal version of a joint white paper on societal implications of astrobiology research in Europe at the EGU Galileo conference, during Friday’s session 9: Planetary research: Ethical, philosophical and societal issues. The conference entitled ‘Geoscience for understanding habitability in the solar system and beyond’ is held in Furnas, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal, September 25-29, 2017.
In this paper, presented by the White Paper lead authors on behalf of the WG5 History and Philosophy of Astrobiology, the prefinal version of the joint Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today will be introduced. The talk gives a brief overview of the structure and contents of the latest version of the white paper, that is Version 5.2. During the talk, we will discuss the societal implications of astrobiology research in the European context and the timely role of an organised initiative in astrobiology policy as well as astrobiology communication.
About the EGU Galileo Conference
The conference “Geoscience for understanding habitability in the solar system and beyond” will be held from 25 to 29 September 2017 at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, Furnas, Azores, Portugal. The meeting will start on 25 September in the morning and finish on 29 September at lunchtime. The conference functions as an EGU Galileo meeting and is co-organized by the COST action “Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe”, the Nordic Network of Astrobiology, and the Belgian Planet Topers project. It is co-chaired by Prof. Veronique Dehant (Royal Observatory of Belgium) and by Prof. Wolf Geppert (Stockholm University Astrobiology Centre).
Scope of the meeting
This conference will deal with fundamental issues of planetary habitability, i.e. the environmental conditions capable of sustaining life, and how interactions between the interior of a planet or a moon and its atmosphere and surface (including hydrosphere and biosphere) affect the habitability of the celestial body. It will address some hotly debated questions in the field including the following:
What effects do core and mantle have on evolution and habitability of planets
What is the relation between (plate) tectonics and atmospheric evolution?
What role does the mantle overturn play in the evolution of the interior and atmosphere?
What is the role of the global carbon and water cycles herein?
What influence do comet and asteroid impacts exert on the evolution of the planet?
How does life interact with the evolution of Earth’s geosphere and atmosphere?
How can we use our knowledge of the solar system geophysics and habitability for exoplanets?
The proposed interdisciplinary will encompass research on all the planets from the upper atmosphere to the deep interior relevant to their habitability. It aims to bring together scientists from all disciplines related to the field in order to discuss the above-mentioned issues.
Klara Anna Capova is a guest researcher with the theme A Plurality of Lives, which is about to finish up its work at the Pufendorf IAS in Lund. She is currently working in social study of astrobiology at Durham University in the UK.
What is your background?
I am a sociocultural anthropologist with specialisation in science, technology and society studies, currently working in social study of astrobiology. I received my undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts and Humanities specialising in the history and philosophy of science, and my postgraduate degree in General Anthropology specialising in cultural and philosophical anthropology, both from Charles University in Prague, the Czech Republic.
My doctoral research (Durham University, 2013) is about the conceptual development and the social context of the scientific search for life beyond Earth. My aim was to describe the scientific search for other life as a specific culture of science. This encompassed the study of scientific practices, public attitudes, science fiction, visual culture and impact of science and technology on contemporary society. So I conducted not only multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, but also extensive work with visual evidence which I particularly enjoyed.
Why are you involved in the theme A Plurality of Lives?
As an affiliated researcher I took part in the theme from its very beginnings. I was excited when I was invited over to Lund to work here for three months to meet the theme researchers in person and also to get to know the beautiful city
of Lund better. It is also a delight to work with the staff at Pufendorf IAS!
What do you hope to contribute?
My task is to complete a pre-final version of Astrobiology and Society in Europe White Paper. This is a joint endeavour of the working group on History and Philosophy of Astrobiology of COST Project TD1308 Origins of Life. The White Paper involves nearly thirty brilliant researchers from twelve European countries and various space science disciplines. The main aim of the document is to address scientific and societal issues, discuss current status and propose a sustainable future of astrobiology research in the European Union. And at least but not last, to support the founding of the European Astrobiology Institute.
What do you hope to get out of your stay?
I am greatly enjoying my time here and embracing the opportunity of getting to know the place and the people, a wonderful time that money can’t buy. Workwise, the White Paper is my priority, but I continue my work in the social study of astrobiology and outer space. So far I have managed to deliver a research poster at NASA Astrobiology Conference in Arizona, and am now getting ready to take part in the Emerging Scholar Workshop at the Center for Theological Enquiry in Princeton.
What are your research interests?
In general, I explore transformations of human relations to outer space and study how science changes society. This involves study of advancements in astrobiology, history and philosophy of science, and of contemporary astroculture, as well as popular perceptions of science and the societal context of space exploration. The special case for this is the scientific search for life beyond Earth and the popular imagining of alien life. I am active in qualitative social research, science policy development, and in delivering talks, lectures, poster sessions, and workshops worldwide.
What drives you?
I am really just a curious person and I greatly enjoy interdisciplinary dialogue and reaching out into other areas of science. I am fascinated by the topics I am currently researching. That is; our universe, humanity’s place in it and what does it mean being human in the 3rd millennium.
What are you working on right now?
Apart from the above mentioned White Paper, I am currently working on a paper on space industry, its growth and potential impact on Earth’s environment and on society. Also the plans for future settlements on Mars and the Moon are on my radar too. Since 2013 I have been running a research profile on Facebook @spacecultures, the Space Cultures page is dedicated to societal, cultural, ethical, historical, scientific and philosophical aspect of search for life beyond earth and space cultures worldwide.
Have you ever been to Lund and/or Sweden?
Yes, I was in Lund last year before Christmas, when we had the first writing up meeting dedicated to the Astrobiology White Paper. Our work has progressed well since that time and we are now aiming at submitting the final version in October. It has been a privilege to work with Erik Persson and David Dunér, both participating in the Plurality of Lives Project at the Pufendorf IAS.
Klara Anna Capova är en gästforskare som har arbetat med temat A Plurality of Lives som snart avslutar sitt arbete på Pufendorfinstitutet. Hon är en en sociokulturell antropolog som är verksam vid Durhams universitet i Storbrittanien.
Vad är din bakgrund?
Jag är en sociokulturell antropolog med specialistkompetens inom vetenskap, teknik och samhällsstudier. Just nu arbetar jag med sociala studier inom astrobiologi. Min kandidatexamen är inom humaniora och konst, och jag specialiserade mig inom historia och filosofi. Min forskarexamen var inom antropologi, med ett fokus på kulturell och filosofisk antropologi. Både min kandidat och min forskarexamen tog jag vid Charles universitet i Prag, Tjeckien.
Min doktorandforskning (Durham University, Storbritannien, 2013) handlade om den konceptuella utvecklingen av den sociala kontexten för det vetenskapliga utforskandet av liv bortom vår egen planet. Mitt syfte var att beskriva det vetenskapliga sökandet efter liv som en specifik vetenskaplig kultur. Avhandlingen omfattade studier av vetenskapliga angreppssätt, allmänna attityder, science fiction, visuell kultur och vetenskapens och teknologins påverkan på dagens samhälle. Det gjorde att jag genomförde både etnografiska studier samt ett omfattande arbete med visuella källor, något som jag särskilt njöt av.
Varför arbetar du med temat A Plurality of Lives?
Jag har varit en del av detta tema från dess början, som en affilierad forskare. Jag blev väldigt glad när jag blev inbjuden till Lund för att arbeta med temat i tre månader, personligen möta forskarna, samt lära känna det vackra Lund bättre. Det är också ett nöje att arbeta med människorna bakom Pufendorfinstitutet.
Vad vill du bidra med?
Min uppgift är att avsluta en nästan färdig version av Astrobiology and Society in Europe White Paper. Det är ett gemensamt arbete som utförs av en arbetsgrupp inom historia och filosofi i COST Project TD1308 Origins of Life. Rapporten samlar nästan 30 duktiga forskare från tolv europeiska länder, samt olika rymdvetenskaper. Rapportens huvudsakliga syfte är att adressera vetenskapliga och samhälleliga frågor, diskutera hur situationen ser ut idag och föreslå en hållbar framtid för astrobiologisk forskning inom EU. Sist men inte minst ska rapporten stödja etableringen av det europeiska astrobiologiinstitutet under 2018.
Vad vill du få ut av din vistelse?
Jag njuter verkligen av min tid här, och jag tar till vara möjligheten att lära känna platsen och människorna – det är en underbar tid som är guld värd. Arbetsmässigt, så ligger mitt fokus på att skriva den rapport jag nämnde, men jag fortsätter också mitt arbete inom sociala studier och astrobiologi och rymdstudier. Än så länge har jag lyckats med att presentera en forskningsposter på NASA:s astrobiologkonferens i Arizona, USA, och nu förbereder jag mig för att medverka i en workshop vid centret för teologiska undersökningar vid Princetons universitet, USA.
Vad är dina forskningsintressen?
Sammanfattningsvis, utforskar jag hur jag hur mänskliga relationer till rymden har förändrats, och studerar hur vetenskapen förändrar samhället. Det omfattar studier av utveckling inom astrobiologi, historia, filosofi, och samtida astrokultur, liksom populärvetenskapliga uppfattningar om vetenskap och den samhälleliga kontexten för utforskandet av rymden. Forskningsfältet baseras på det pågående vetenskapliga utforskandet av liv i rymden, och de populärkulturella föreställningar som finns om utomjordiskt liv idag. Jag är också aktiv inom kvalitativ social forskning, bidrar i framtagandet av olika typer av riktlinjer, och genomför seminarier, posterutställningar och workshops över hela världen.
Vad driver dig?
Jag är en nyfiken person – jag uppskattar interdisciplinär dialog och att utforska andra områden inom vetenskaplig forskning. Jag är fascinerad av de ämnen som jag utforskar – som exempelvis vårt universum, mänsklighetens plats i det, och vad det betyder att vara mänsklig när vi är inne i det tredje millenniet.
Vad arbetar du med just nu?
Just nu arbetar jag med en artikel om rymdindustri, dess framväxt och möjlig påverkan på vår planets natur och vårt samhälle. Vidare är planerna på framtida bosättningar på Mars och månen på min radar också. Sedan 2013 driver jag en forskarprofil på Facebook, @spacecultures, Space Culturessidan lyfter fram samhälleliga, kulturella, etiska, vetenskapliga och filosofiska aspekter på sökandet efter liv bortom vår egen planet, samt rymdkulturer världen över.
Har du varit i Lund och/eller Sverige tidigare?
Ja, jag var i Lund 2016, före jul, då vi hade vårt första skrivarmöte för rapporten om astrobiologi. Vårt arbete har fortskridit bra sedan dess och vi satsar nu på att skicka in den sista versionen i oktober 2017. Det har varit ett privilegium att arbeta med Erik Persson och David Dunér, som båda ingår i temat Pluality of Lives.
Super excited about being in Princeton and taking part in the Questing for Life: Emerging Scholar Workshops on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology at the Center of Theological Inquiry, CTI.
Supported by a grant from the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Templeton Foundation, the 2016/2017 Center’s Inquiry on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology aims to engage the humanities, social sciences, philosophy, and theology with current science exploring the origins and extent of life in the universe.
The workshop Questing for Life: Emerging Scholar Workshops on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology (June 13-16, 2017) focuses on the joint contributions of the sciences and humanities.
More information about the event was published in the Fresh Thinking Magazine: Issue 1 (2018)
About the workshop
Astrobiology is the quest to understand the potential of the universe to harbor life beyond Earth. Societal understanding of life on Earth has always developed in dialogue with scientific investigations of its origin and evolution. Today, the science of astrobiology extends these investigations to include the possibility of life in the universe. As astrobiology develops and its discoveries become more widely known, scholars in the humanities and social sciences will have new opportunities to interpret the significance of these discoveries and deepen our understanding of life itself. These research workshops offer one such opportunity. Questing for Life is for emerging scholars who are open to this new angle of vision on perennial questions. Sample topics include the use of narratives in understanding life in space; historical studies of first encounters with other cultures and natural life on Earth; how literature and the arts shape expectations of life; ethical, philosophical, and theological implications of the quest; conceptual questions in defining life; theoretical problems in identifying life; the legal, environmental, political, and commercial issues in planetary protection; and the impact of astrobiology on views of nature for indigenous and world religions. CTI aims to foster a community of discussion that crosses traditional boundaries.