Habitability

Charles S. Cockell

The term "habitability" means many different things depending on the organisms that are considered, as it defines the chemical and physical envelope for a given organism. Because there is currently no direct evidence for life on another planet, habitability is necessarily constrained by our knowledge of life on Earth. We use our knowledge of the extremes of life on Earth to assess extraterrestrial environments and the plausibility that they can support life. In this chapter the use and limitations of the concept of habitability are discussed and examples are provided of how the habitability of other worlds is assessed using extreme environments on Earth. The chapter starts with a brief discussion of the history of habit-ability, including some historical watersheds in this concept. Then, some of the factors and mechanisms that determine the habitability of other planets are discussed. Finally, a postulate for hab-itability is given, which can be used to guide the way we think about the characteristics of other environments that we wish to assess as habitable or uninhabitable.

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