Astrobiologists at Work

artist's concept of planets and asteroids An artist's concept showing planets. Image credit: NASA
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September 20, 2005

Astrobiologists study everything about life in the universe, including how it originated, how it might be distributed in the universe, and what might be its fate. Recognizing and understanding how and where life exists on Earth, especially in harsh conditions, may help in identifying life in other parts of the universe. "We're particularly interested in testing methods of detecting evidence of life in extreme environments without using destructive methods," says JPL astrobiologist Dr. Pan Conrad.

She focuses on looking for signs of life in rocks. "In harsh environments, life may live in rocks rather than outside rocks," she explains. "Also, rocks are where we look for evidence of past life. I'm not as much interested in the organisms themselves," Conrad continues, "as in the measurable chemical evidence the organisms leave behind in the environment to announce that they were once or are still present."

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