Earth as a Cosmic Oasis

By Mayank Chhaya-

Two British paleobiologists are reasserting Earth’s uniqueness in the universe as a living planet even while the search for life elsewhere in the cosmos has gained great urgency in recent years. Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams, both professors of paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, are challenging the growing tendency to dismiss Earth as just another minor planet orbiting a mediocre star in a garden variety solar system.

In their richly detailed book ‘The Cosmic Oasis: The Remarkable Story of Earth’s Biosphere’, they examine Earth’s biosphere, to make their case of its cosmic status so far as the only place such a rich diversity of life exists so far as we know. The biosphere is essentially the thin skin of a few kilometers above Earth’s and barely 4 kilometers into ocean depths. Everything that we call life has unfolded in this stratum. So far NASA has discovered close to 5500 exoplanets but none with any discernible signs of life as we understand it.

To explain why they think our planet is a cosmic oasis Dr. Zalasiewicz and Dr. Williams spoke to Mayank Chhaya Reports.

Mark Williams is a Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester in the UK. He is a long-time member of the Anthropocene Working Group and former secretary. Over the past three decades he has studied fossils on every continent, piecing together small fragments of past worlds to help gain a better understanding of how life has evolved over 100s of millions of years. Now, much of his focus is on the current state of life, and how its diversity is threatened by human activities in the Anthropocene. With his friend Jan Zalasiewicz he has co-written several popular science books on the geological history of planet Earth, most recently ‘The Cosmic Oasis’ (2022). Jan Zalasiewicz is Emeritus Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester. He chairs the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy and is part of its Anthropocene Working Group. His interests include Early Palaeozoic fossils and rocks, the Quaternary Ice Ages and the geology made by humans. His books include The Earth After Us (2008), The Planet in a Pebble (2010), and (with Mark Williams) The Goldilocks Planet (2012), Ocean Worlds (2014), Skeletons (2018) and The Cosmic Oasis (2022), and (with Anne-Sophie Milon) a translation of Buffon’s 1778 book The Epochs of Nature.

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