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: 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.

Spotlight Live: The Hunt for Other Worlds Heats Up

Jul 09, 2014

Three astrophysicists – Zachory Berta-Thompson, Bruce Macintosh and Marie-Eve Naud.

Spotlight Live: TESS & the Search for Exoplanets

Illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
May 01, 2013

Following a three-year competition, NASA has selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project at MIT for a planned launch in 2017. 

Searching For The First Stars

Feb 16, 2012

As astronomers detect ever more distant galaxies, they are homing in on some of the first sources of light in the universe. Researchers hope new instruments and observational techniques will reveal how the first stars and galaxies brought the young universe out of its dark ages and into the light.

Exoplanets: How the Milky Way is Surprising Scientists

Jul 21, 2011

Three prominent researchers discuss how recent findings from the Kepler mission are deepening our understanding of planets beyond our solar system, and expanding our view of where life may exist in the Milky Way Galaxy.


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