An Abundance of Habitats

As every practicing scientist and investment analyst well knows it is always a risky venture to extrapolate beyond the known data. Nature (and the economy), history tells us, is very good at throwing us curveballs, and what may seem like a sound and logical prediction can, when the correct observations are finally gathered in, be entirely wrong. This method of prediction, testing against the observations and making corrections, of course, is exactly what makes the scientific approach so powerful. But when it comes to understanding the origins of life, and predicting where life might be found in the universe, we are presently at a distinct disadvantage.

The disadvantage is not so much a lack of ideas and possibilities, however, but one of too many ideas and too many possibilities that are not constrained by actual data and observations. We are also at a disadvantage in the present epoch with respect to not knowing what it is that we don't know.1 The existence, or not, of other life forms, microbial and otherwise within the greater Solar System and the vast expanse of the universe beyond is a subject profoundly unknown to us. If we use the Earth as an example then it is clear that life is tenacious and can survive anywhere where there is liquid water, and this is our present best piece of information to guide the search for extraterrestrial life among the potpourri of possibilities.

Likewise, a world that already has water is a good place for human colonization, terraforming, or utilizing as an intensive agriculture region. Within our Solar System, these various resources certainly exist, and some of them will be discussed below. On a grander, galactic scale, it is also known that planets are commonly found in orbit around low-mass stars, and this leads to the speculation that other civilizations may have adopted ''terraforming'' strategies in the utilization of their own planetary systems. Martyn Fogg has further speculated that our very distant descendants might eventually initiate an interstellar-expansion program based upon

M. Beech, Terraforming, Astronomers' Universe 211

DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-09796-1_8, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

the terraforming of any suitable planets encountered during their journey to discover the galaxy. Let us begin with a look at the greater Solar System's resources first.

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