Centro de Astrobiologia: 20 Years Building Astrobiology Introduction

Parro, V., Mas-Hesse, J. M., Gómez-Elviera, J., Gimenez, A., Pérez-Mercader, J. (2020). Centro de Astrobiologia: 20 Years Building Astrobiology Introduction. Astrobiology, 20, 9, 1025-1028 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2020.0804

The Centro de AstroBiología (CAB) was founded in November 1999 as a joint institute between the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the National Institute for Aerospace Technologies (INTA). Located in Madrid (Spain), CAB became the first astrobiology organization outside the United States to be associated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)—formally becoming an associate member in the year 2000. Astrobiology considers life as a natural consequence of the evolution of the Universe, and CAB aims to study the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the Universe, from an integrative transdisciplinary approach.

CAB’s foundation was the result of a profound interest in applying the scientific method to life—in the sense of looking for or making another form of “life” to compare it with life on Earth—to therefore infer the principles that were behind the class of phenomena we encounter in biology. Discussions on these topics started in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, New Mexico. They originally (1993) focused on finding a common phenomenology to self-organized phenomena from the Big Bang to biology and on establishing some “bridge” between the Big Bang and biology. They involved Murray Gell-Mann, Geoffrey West, and Juan Pérez-Mercader, who was to be the founding director of CAB. They focused on looking at the ubiquitous power laws present at every scale in the Universe. These power laws are indicators of self-organization in collective phenomena, and they indicate collective states where the components somehow contribute “equally” to the generation of a cooperative state, just as in phase transitions in physics. The big question could be framed as follows: Are the various collective phenomena that seem to have formed in a “successive” way through the history of the Universe the result of “phase transitions,” and was their coarse-graining provided by the “arrow of time”? There are many harbingers for this. But establishing the correlation is not trivial for many reasons, including the fact that we only know one example of life, and we do not know how it was generated. It would require a team of scientists with a truly scientific and professional knowledge and understanding of the various components of the puzzle.

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