Astrobiology

Astrobiology is the study of life’s origins and how extrater-restrial 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 every-thing from the chances of finding bacteria on Mars or in the subsurface oceans of Europa and Titan, to the charac-terization of habitable exoplanets, to the search for ex-traterrestrial intelligence (SETI) such as signals from advanced civilizations that might be broadcasting their existence. This field of study has no sub-jects – yet! – but that’s not stopping researchers from in-vestigating 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.

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.

Kepler's habitable planet

Kepler Finds a Possibly Habitable World

The hits just keep on coming for NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Today mission scientists announced that they've identified a thousand more candidate planets around other stars. One is Kepler-22 b, a world somewhat larger than Earth where you likely could walk around in shirtsleeve temperatures.

Tagish Lake meteorite

Meteorite Cooks Up Its Organic Brew

A dash of this and a pinch of that — slow cooked with water inside an asteroid — could have yielded a rich and diverse soup of organic matter. That's the remarkable new finding from careful analysis of the super-primitive Tagish Lake meteorite.

Kepler in space

Kepler’s Twitchy Detectors

NASA's new planet-hunting spacecraft, launched seven months ago, has a few noisy detectors that make the stars under study appear to flicker. It's a problem the mission team knew about — and decided not to repair before sending the craft irretrievably into space.

Tumbling asteroid

A Fall to Earth, One Year Later

Planetary astronomers had less than a day's notice before asteroid 2008 TC3 crashed into Earth one year ago. But they've made the most of the strange black fragments of it that fell to the ground that day.

Geysers on Enceladus

A “Briny Deep” Inside Enceladus?

Planetary scientists are crazy about Saturn's most active moon but can't agree on what powers the towering plumes gas and particles erupting from near its south pole. New findings, published this week, hint that the water vapor might be slowly evaporating from a salt-laced ocean in deeply buried caverns.

Geysers on Enceladus

What’s Going on Inside Enceladus?

One of Saturn's icy moons has a tummy ache, causing it to spew jets of gas and icy particles hundreds of miles into space. Researchers aren't sure of the cause — but they have some interesting guesses!

By the night of January 15, 2008, Mars was slightly gibbous again and 14.0″ wide but still showed lots of detail. The North Polar Hood of clouds is at top. Sinus Meridiani and Sinus Sabaeus run from lower right of center to the lower-right limb.

The Curious Case of Martian Methane

Mars, it seems, is not quite dead. A team of observers has found methane in the Red Planet's atmosphere. This finding proves either that Mars has (or once had) life — or that the planet's interior occasionally burps.