Conference Location and Dates
The First Billion Years: Habitability conference was held September 8–11, 2019 at Buck's T-4 Lodge in Big Sky, Montana.
Purpose and Scope
The physical processes (e.g., accretion, differentiation, and bombardment) that created the worlds we observe today also created at least one world where life has emerged and thrived. Within the first billion years, the Earth developed the conditions that allowed for the appropriate chemical reactions that eventually led to abiogenesis at around 3.5 billion years ago, or possibly even earlier. Alternatively, Earth may have just been among the bodies with the appropriate early environmental conditions to permit panspermic seeding to flourish into the life we see today.
This topical conference on Habitability, the fourth and final installment of the LPI’s The First Billion Years series, focuses on habitability and producing conditions conducive to life, the emergence of life on Earth, the potential for the emergence of life on other solar system bodies, and extensions to extrasolar systems. Continuing with the goal of The First Billion Years initiative, this conference is intended to foster multi- and interdisciplinary discussion on the processes and physical conditions that affected the development of potentially habitable environments during the first billion years, how such environments evolved over time, and how such ideas may be tested with current and future laboratory measurements, field studies, astronomical observations, and spacecraft missions.
The First Billion Years: Habitability conference will focus on integrating the diverse fields of study in astrobiology, including but not limited to biology, chemistry, geology, planetary science, physics, and astronomy, with particular interest on the intersections of these fields as they apply to understanding the conditions that are conducive to life. Thematically, the conference is focused on Habitability, Origins of Life, and the Search for Life Beyond Earth, while cementing the discussion around our knowledge of the solar system’s first billion years and particularly the Earth’s early history.
In this conference we hope to address questions such as:
What prebiotic reactions were possible during the period when life emerged on Earth and, conversely, what environmental conditions were needed on early Earth to foster key prebiotic reactions? The geologic record has established that life arose on Earth sometime during its first billion years. The same record can also be used to define the environmental conditions and chemical building blocks that were present that either led to or potentially encouraged life to arise on Earth. Additionally, studies of life’s chemistry and the diversity of present-day life, including adaptations to extreme environments, provides a means to presently explore the origins of life. However, in order to refine our understanding of the chemical pathways that led to life on Earth, we must identify the key measurements needed to define the environmental and chemical parameter space.
Did the timing of habitable environments on Earth coincide with the timing of potentially habitable environments on other planetary bodies (e.g., Mars, Venus, Europa) and what is the potential impact of global-scale processes, such as a late heavy bombardment, on the emergence and evolution of life? Planetary scale events in our solar system may have altered the pathway for the emergence and evolution of life on Earth and elsewhere. Indeed, environmental conditions on Earth and elsewhere have drastically changed during the first billion years, which not only impacts the establishment of life but also the potential for biosignature preservation and thus the search for extant life on other worlds. In order to assess the biological potential of early environments, though, we must first define adequate metrics to quantify habitability.
What are the defining factors that influence the dynamic habitability of exoplanets and what future technologies are required to identify habitable worlds? In understanding how life arose on Earth as well as its environmental context, we improve our ability to search for habitable exoplanets. The now numerous exoplanet detections are challenging our notions of the diversity of planets and their potential habitability. The first billion years of Earth, during which life emerged, and context from our own solar system allows us to elucidate planetary habitability, while at the same time the myriad of exoplanet detections provides important context for the evolution of our own solar system. In order to detect habitable exoplanets, though, we must first identify robust biosignatures and the technology required to observe them.