The Galactic Real Estate Market: The Physics and Chemistry of Habitability

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Exoplanets, planets circling distant stars, are proving to be an extraordinary source of new thinking about the potential for life beyond Earth. Until recently, we have assumed that our Solar System and its planets were probably representative of such systems elsewhere. But the amazing array of very odd exoplanets that are being uncovered have stimulated a renaissance of thought on the subject of potential homes for life in the universe. Combined with work on extreme lifeforms here on Earth and intensive study of Mars and several other planets and moons in our system, new paradigms for life search missions are emerging. Science fiction has long drawn from and extrapolated out from science, but the cross-fertilization has gone both ways. Some of the more outrageous planets incorporated into fiction in the past may not be so outrageous after all. I will discuss what we think we know about exoplanets so far, how they are detected, how we are beginning to characterize their environments, and ideas about what this means for our search for living neighbors in our galaxy, whether they be microbes or folks we can actually chat with some day.