Astrobiology

AstrobiologyA collage of concepts critical to astrobiology, including the classic "ball and stick" models of molecules as well as orbital positions of worlds in relation to their host stars. (Image credit: NASA)

The field of astrobiology gauges the potential habitability of worlds beyond Earth, the only astronomical body known to support life. Mars, several moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and exoplanets are among the chief bodies of interest. Astrobiologists base their theoretical and experimental assessments of the possibility for life on other worlds through investigations of habitable environments on Earth. These environments include those with extremes of temperature, aridness, acidity, salinity and additional factors that might be typical conditions on other worlds. Astrobiologists also broadly consider orbital parameters that would appear conducive to life. In particular, the proximity of worlds to stars of various temperatures and luminosities informs estimates of a "habitable," or Goldilocks zone. In these not-too-hot, not-too-cold orbital bands, worlds can maintain water in a liquid state on their surface, deemed critical for life. However, underground oceans and heat sources for worlds outside conventional habitable zones, such as Jupiter's moon Europa, also keenly interest astrobiologists. As for life outside of the Solar System, near-future telescopes should allow for more detailed study of the atmospheres of exoplanets. Such observations might identify particular gas abundances that can only plausibly be produced by the chemistry of life.

Spotlight Live: Coming Face to Face with an Asteroid

Sep 07, 2016
OSIRIS-REx

On September 27, scientists Richard Binzel, Beth Ellen Clark and Bashar Rizk discussed NASA's newly launched OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling mission and what it could reveal about life and death in the Solar System.    

Getting Up Close and Personal with an Earth-Sized Exoplanet

Nov 09, 2015
Transiting exoplanet

A newfound alien world orbiting a small, nearby star could be one of the first exoplanets scientists get to investigate in detail. Two of the astronomers who made the discovery—MKI's Zachory Berta-Thompson and Elisabeth Newton–discuss what they might encounter there with Rory Barnes from the University of Washington.

Spotlight Live: Searching for Alien Life with a "Super-Hubble" Space Telescope (Transcript)

Nov 05, 2015
Milky Way

On October 6, The Kavli Foundation hosted a Google+ Hangout to learn more about proposed High Definition Space Telescope, a kind of "Super Hubble" that could launch in the 2030s. We spoke with two of the proponents: Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington and Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute. This is a transcript of that discussion.

Spotlight Live: Searching for Alien Life with a "Super-Hubble" Space Telescope

Sep 17, 2015
Schematic of HDST

On October 6, The Kavli Foundation hosted a Google+ Hangout to learn more about proposed High Definition Space Telescope, a kind of "Super Hubble" that could launch in the 2030s. We spoke to Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington, who co-chaired the committee that put forward the proposal, as well as committee member Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Spotlight Live: Earth-like Planets in Other Solar Systems (Transcript)

Feb 11, 2015

During a recent Google Hangout, three astrophysicists discussed what we can learn about the planets in other solar systems, and answer viewers' questions about how close we are to discovering other Earths. Read a modified transcript of their discussion.

Microbe Mania (Sidebar)

Jan 26, 2015

What do microbial communities have in common, and can studying rock-dwelling microbes teach us anything about those that dwell in our gut? Microbiologist Jocelyne DiRuggiero explains the connections.

Spotlight Live: Microbes and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Jan 26, 2015
Exoplanet

On January 28, astrobiologists Jocelyne DiRuggiero and Christopher McKay discussed how microbiomes - the communities of microbes that inhabit different ecosystems - is driving the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Microbiome & Astrobiology: How to Search for Life on Other Worlds

Jan 25, 2015

Armed with new knowledge about how microbes persist even in the Earth’s harshest environments, astrobiologists are planning the next missions to search for life in our solar system. Their bets are on microbes.

Spotlight Live: Coming Soon - Earth-like Planets in Other Solar Systems

Oct 03, 2014

We’re on the verge of being able to tell which of the thousands of Earth-like planets in the universe could support life. 

Spotlight Live: The Hunt for Other Worlds Heats Up (Transcript)

Jul 15, 2014

During a recent Google Hangout, three astrophysicists discussed the recent exoplanet discovery boom and considered the next steps in the hunt for habitable worlds. Read a modified transcript of their discussion.

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