Read More: Scientific American
Mary Voytek, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology, likes to tell other researchers that "everyone is an astrobiologist; they just don't know it yet." What she means is that answering the question currently at the heart of astrobiology—Does life exist beyond Earth?—requires input from an incredibly wide range of disciplines, including astrophysics, geology, exoplanet science, planetary science, chemistry and various subfields of biology. On the plus side, that means astrobiologists have a lot of resources to draw on. But it also means that people like Voytek have to deal with a flood of relevant information coming in from all of those scientific fields and figure out how to get scientists from those disciplines to work together. Voytek and other NASA representatives discussed how they are dealing with that information influx, and the interdisciplinary nature of the field, at the Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe meeting, hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, here at the University of California, Irvine this week. An influx of information In 2017, Congress made an update to the law that defines NASA's purpose and objectives: the new language specified that the agency should pursue an understanding of the nature and distribution of life beyond Earth, if it exists. Of course, NASA has been searching for alien life for a very long time, but the new wording may reflect the fact that even members of the public (and members of Congress) are aware that the field of astrobiology is heating up.