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Astrobiology. 2001 Summer;1(2):143-60.

Assessing the plausibility of life on other worlds.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968, USA.


As the field of astrobiology matures and search strategies for life on other worlds are developed, the need to analyze in a systematic way the plausibility for life on other planetary systems becomes increasingly apparent. We propose the adoption of a simple plausibility of life (POL) rating system based on specific criteria. Category I applies to any body shown to have conditions essentially equivalent to those on Earth. Category II applies to bodies for which there is evidence of liquid water and sources of energy and where organic compounds have been detected or can reasonably be inferred (Mars, Europa). Category III applies to worlds where conditions are physically extreme but possibly capable of supporting exotic forms of life unknown on Earth (Titan, Triton). Category IV applies to bodies that could have seen the origin of life prior to the development of conditions so harsh as to make its perseverance at present unlikely but conceivable in isolated habitats (Venus, Io). Category V would be reserved for sites where conditions are so unfavorable for life by any reasonable definition that its origin or persistence there cannot be rated a realistic probability (the Sun, gas giant planets). The proposed system is intended to be generic. It assumes that life is based on polymeric chemistry occurring in a liquid medium with uptake and degradation of energy from the environment. Without any additional specific assumptions about the nature of life, the POL system is universally applicable.

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