Hello, friends! Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about those weird and wonderful words scientists like to use. Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about:
You will find life pretty much anywhere you go on Earth. Living things are in the water, on the land, and up in the air.
Aerobiology comes from three Greek words meaning “air,” “life,” and “the study of.” So aerobiology is the study of airborne life, specifically airborne microbial life. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was first introduced in the late 1930’s.
I have to confess I am totally new to aerobiology. I only found out about this term yesterday, and I don’t want anything I say to misrepresent the field. But based on what I have read, it sounds like aerobiologists are primarily concerned with protecting public health from the spread of pollen and other allergens, as well as the spread of airborne diseases.
However, aerobiologists also study airborne microbes that are not a direct threat to human health—and this is the part that connects to the outer space stuff I normally write about. For decades now, aerobiologists have known that algae and other common microorganisms can fly up into Earth’s atmosphere and travel great distances on the wind. And according to this 2001 paper, microorganisms can (and do) remain active—growing and reproducing—inside the water droplets found in clouds. As the authors of that 2001 paper explain it, we should start thinking of clouds as microbial habitats.
So what does this have to do with outer space? Well, if clouds on Earth can serve as a habitat for microorganisms, then maybe microorganisms could exist in the clouds of some other planet.
And by some other planet, I mean Venus.
And by maybe, I mean stay tuned for Monday’s post.