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.

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.

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.

Project Ozma radio dish

Project Ozma: The First SETI

It's been 50 years since a young radio astronomer named Frank Drake audaciously attempted, for the first time, to eavesdrop on radio transmissions from alien civilizations.

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!

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.

Mars from Phoenix lander

Is Mars Too Salty for Life?

A just-published study, coincidentally appearing as Phoenix prepares to get the dirt on Martian habitability, argues that the Red Planet's soil is at least 10 to 100 times saltier than Earth's oceans.