can only determine minimal conditions for complex molecules to form, and forbiochemical processes to happen, the main condition being the presence of liquidwater as a solvent). Therefore, the debate around the frequency of spontaneousgeneration of life in the universe has been a lively and controversial one in thelast decades, still popular to this day, and it comprises different hypotheses: fromthe one holding that life necessarily emerges wherever the conditions allow (theso-called Cosmic Imperative)
to the one arguing that life is an extremely rare,essentially unique phenomenon which took place only on Earth.
Astronomical observations could help resolving this debate on empiricalgrounds: should we manage to discover even one certain case of life in anextraterrestrial environment, the thesis of the unicity of life on Earth would bedisproved, and even claims of its extreme rarity would be severely undermined.But what kind of life forms can we expect to find in extra-terrestrial environments? The main assumption is that we should primarily look for the most abundant andsimple life-form that is present on Earth: microbial life, in particular bacteria. Thisidea is supported by the observed resilience of certain forms of microbes, knownas extremophiles, to extreme environmental conditions. Extremophiles aremicrobial organisms which have developed an high degree of adaptability toextreme environments,
presenting conditions which in fact often resemble those
spontaneously form amino acids, as it could have happened in the primordial atmosphere of thenewly-formed planet Earth. However, it is still unclear how these basic amino acids can go on toform the proteins that are the building blocks at the base of life as we know it. For a review of the different forms in which carbon can be found in the ISM (from carbon-bearing molecules tocarbonaceous compounds) see Henning and Salama 1998. For observation of amino acids indistant galaxies see Salter
The term was coined, and the hypothesis made popular by the biochemist Christian De Duve(1996) who argued that life is the necessary outcome of biochemical forces embedded in thevery physical structure of the universe. Among other popular supporters of this position was theastronomer Carl Sagan (see Sagan 1995), who saw the proliferation of life in the cosmos as anecessary corollary to the Principle of Mediocrity (or Copernican Principle), indicating that weshould not suppose that anything is special about our place in the universe, not even theemergence of biological systems.
See for example the work of biologist Jacques Monod (1971) who argued that the study of theorigins of life could never be a science, as life cannot be derived from the laws of chemistry andphysics. More recently, geologist Peter Ward and astronomer Don Brownlee elaborated the socalled 'Rare Earth hypothesis' (see Ward and Brownlee 2000), arguing that Earth is a rare placewhere many random and extremely unlikely factors have converged, creating a nearly perfectsite for the emergence and evolution of complex life, thus concluding that it is possible thatonly a few planets per galaxy ever develop life.
Varieties of extremophiles include halophiles (single-cell, salt-loving organisms which requirehigh concentrations of salt to live), acidophiles and alkalinophiles (requiring extreme pHconditions) and thermophiles (organisms that grow and reproduce at high temperatures, up to