A Day in the Astrobiology "Lab" - How Astrobiologists Work

Oct 17 2014
Astrobiologists apply the scientific method to questions once considered the purview of sci-fi fans. Learn about astrobiologists at .
If you become an astrobiologist, you might become interested in searching for signals from distant stars and galaxies with a radio telescope. This one is located at the Lewis Center for Educational Research in California.

A typical day for an astrobiologist might involve analyzing space-telescope images or data from a satellite orbiting Mars. It might involve developing computer models or suiting up in scuba gear. It might be spent writing grants, lots of grants, to fund the work. Or it might be spent in the Arctic.

ほとんどの宇宙生物学者はNASAまたは学術機関で働いていますが、民間の財団もいくつかの宇宙生物学の立場をサポートしています[出典:Lubick、Vault ]。しかし、所属に関係なく、宇宙生物学は、資金源、共同作業、および/またはNASA宇宙生物学研究所(NAI)のような組織によって、ほとんどの組織とチームが最終的に結びついている小さな世界です。この研究所は、パートナー機関と個々のメンバーチームを通じて世界中の宇宙生物学研究をつなぐウェブです[出典:NASA]。アリゾナ州立大学のこれらのチームの1つは、炭素、窒素、リン、鉄など、地球上の生命の最も基本的な構成要素である元素と、それらの元素の利用可能性と水との関係を研究しています。彼らが学んだことを使用して、アリゾナチームは、特定の太陽系に居住可能な惑星が含まれる可能性が高いかどうかを予測するのに役立つコンピューターモデルを開発します[出典:NASA ]。

他の研究は、惑星科学者のナタリー・キャブロールが世界で最も標高の高い火山湖を探索するチームを率いるSETI協会からのものです。この作業には、20,000フィート(6,000メートル)でのフリーダイビングとスキューバダイビングが含まれ、極端な環境で生物がどのように進化して生き残るかを研究します[出典:SETI ]。

Through the Mars Institute, scientists on the Haughton-Mars Project have established base camps in the High Arctic, on the uninhabited Devon Island. They test exploration methods in the extreme "polar desert," an environment determined to be similar to the makeup of Mars [source: Mars on Earth].

Not all astrobiology work is quite so extreme. SETI astronomer Dan Werthimer has spent decades analyzing data from massive radio telescopes, looking for signals from beyond Earth (much like Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research, on whom Carl Sagan based the main character in the 1997 movie "Contact") [source: Exploratorium]. So far, he's found nothing – but as he told Congress in 2014: "It may be only a few years before we have detected evidence of life beyond the Earth."

Werthimer also founded the [email protected] system that lets computer owners contribute their processing power to the massive task of combing through those telescopes' data [source: [email protected]].

Astrobiology research is happening all over the world, but it's not the easiest field to break into. The career path is often uncertain and varies widely. One thing, though, is nearly universal: An astrobiology career begins in a different scientific discipline.

Astrobiologist Pay

As a relatively small, new field, it's tough to find definitive salary ranges for astrobiology jobs. Using California as the location (that's where the NAI has its headquarters), the salary-comparison website Vault.com estimates astrobiologists earn anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000-plus per year, depending on experience. BiologySalary says $50,000 to $110,000, with an average of about $60,000 to $95,000. CareerBuilder has $90,000 as the average. Not too bad.

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