Astrobiology

Astrobiology is the study of life’s origins and how extraterrestrial life might develop on other planets in and beyond our solar system. These news stories will introduce you to all the various aspects of astrobiology. We cover everything from the chances of finding bacteria on Mars or in the subsurface oceans of Europa and Titan, to the characterization of habitable exoplanets, to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) such as signals from advanced civilizations that might be broadcasting their existence. This field of study has no extraterrestrial subjects – yet! – but that’s not stopping researchers from investigating what kinds of alien life might be possible.

An artist's conception of the debris disk around Beta Pictoris.

A Chaotic Planet-Forming Disk

A new map of Beta Pictoris reveals an asymmetric clump of carbon monoxide likely produced in cometary collisions. It provides a rare glimpse at the chaotic birth of a planetary system.

ancient volcano on Mars

Supervolcanoes on Mars

A new analysis of data from spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet suggests that gigantic calderas lie disguised on the planet’s surface. If the features are volcanoes, they could help explain the mysterious, fine-grain debris that coats Mars.

Archean Earth

A Fix for the “Faint Young Sun”

For 40 years astrobiologists have wrestled with how to make the early Earth warm enough to support life even though the young Sun was at least 30% fainter than it is now. New climate models, powered by supercomputers, are converging on a solution.

Mars "Sheepbed"

Habitable Oasis on Mars?

The results from the Curiosity rover's first rock-drilling are in: the rock formed in the presence of fairly neutral, not-too-salty water and has a chemical makeup that might have provided energy for microorganisms.

ice on Titan

Floating Ice on Titan?

Astronomers had thought that ice on the Saturnian moon's methane-ethane seas would sink. But a new study suggests that, if the right conditions are met, ice could actually float on this alien-Earth world.

Kepler's habitable planet

Kepler Zeroes in on Alien Earths

NASA's Kepler space observatory is finally achieving its goal of finding many Earth-size exoplanets with surface temperatures suitable for liquid water — and thus potentially habitable.

chemical structure of glycolaldehyde

Space a Little Sweeter

Astronomers have detected a simple sugar called glycolaldehyde in the gas around two young stars. The ALMA observations that led to the discovery are impressive, but don’t jump on the “life” bandwagon just yet.

Titan-mission-70px

Smooth Sailing on Titan

Waves don't grow much — if at all — on Saturn's moon Titan. However, the calm lakes and seas might see some surface wrinkles in a few years when the northern hemisphere's summer arrives.

Vesta in rainbow

Asteroids, Planets, and Moons, Oh My

This week’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union brought together a variety of interesting science results, from water on Mars to the Sun’s effect on the Moon’s surface. Here’s a selection of curiosities for your perusing pleasure.