In Marseille, an interdisciplinary institute in quest of our origins | EUROtoday

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D'the place can we come from? How was our planet fashioned and the way did life seem on it? Are we alone within the universe ? Neither astrophysics, nor chemistry, nor biology can alone reply the elemental query of our origins.

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And how can we do with out the contributions of philosophy and, extra usually, the humanities? “Impossible, because there is a major societal dimension in all of this,” believes astrophysicist Olivier Mousis, founder and present director of the Origins Institute, created on the coronary heart of Aix-Marseille University in 2021 to check the origin planets and the situations for the emergence of life within the Universe.

“Integrate space law into teaching”

An interdisciplinary group inside which this specialist within the formation of fuel giants and their moons has undertaken to convey collectively all of the forces able to advancing astrobiology. A science born within the Seventies, however which has really taken on a brand new dimension because of the dazzling progress in astronomical statement strategies.

“Our objective is twofold. This involves, on the one hand, developing transversal research around the origins of life and, on the other hand, training future astrobiologists in France. All on the territory of Aix-Marseille, contributing to its international influence, the Origins Institute aiming to collaborate with the largest universities and to become a partner of space agencies. »

To achieve this, the structure, which already brings together 16 laboratories, is preparing to integrate 4 others and at the same time cross the bar of 200 researchers. Enough to make it the largest astrobiology research organization supported by a French university. Its members include astrophysicists, chemists, physicists, biologists, geologists, philosophers, epistemologists and even lawyers!

“We will indeed integrate a laboratory of the faculty of law. Because we want to integrate space law into the teaching courses that we are developing, in particular a master's degree in space techniques designed in collaboration with Polytech as well as an international master's degree in astrobiology bringing together several universities from the European Civis network, including the of Aix-Marseille is affiliated. »

Detecting life on other planets

Olivier Mousis has his head full of projects, but one of them is particularly close to his heart: the creation of a real space center, attached to the institute. It would make it possible to train in space techniques through the construction of projects, nanosatellites in particular, and to create instruments designed to fly in space in order to respond to international calls from space agencies. The director of the institute thus has in mind a concept of a “Swiss army knife” instrument for use to detect life on different planets.

READ ALSO The fabulous new photographs from the Euclid house telescopeFor their half, virologists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel are able to ship into house the enormous viruses that their laboratory research all around the world and particularly in excessive environments, equivalent to Siberian permafrost. A type of terrestrial life that has lengthy gone unnoticed resulting from its uncommon dimensions.

“Is the viral particle capable of interstellar travel? Does it then retain its infectious power? These are the kinds of questions we will be able to answer,” the 2 biologists clarify to us. Because, if the reply is sure, viruses might very nicely represent a distinct type of life, of extraterrestrial origin, which might have tailored to the situations of Earth.