The Exobiology Branch conducts interdisciplinary basic research in exobiology to understand pre-biotic chemistry and the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the Universe. We provide an interface between the external academic community and NASA programs. Our work also informs the selection, design, and development of NASA life-detection missions; the design and fabrication of spaceflight instruments to evaluate habitability and detect biosignatures; and the interpretation of astrobiology mission and astronomical data.
Below are brief descriptions of the main focus areas in our branch along with links to additional details on some of our current projects:
Basic Research in Astrobiology
We conduct basic research that covers a broad range of topics within Astrobiology. Our work includes research into the origin and early evolution of life, and our branch is home to the Center for the Emergence of Life, which supports a holistic approach to investigating the origin and early evolution of life by integrating experimental and computational approaches in the areas of cosmochemistry, systems chemistry, molecular modeling, in vitro evolution, and synthetic biology. Our branch also conducts research to understand the nature and distribution of habitable environments and how biosignatures from inhabited environments can be detected. Our investigations into habitability and biosignatures include research that focuses on multiple planetary bodies both with and beyond our own solar system.
Interface between External Scientific Community and NASA
The Exobiology Branch serves as a bridge between NASA programs and the external research community. For example, through the Center for Life Detection (CLD), our branch is leading an effort to organize the life detection community in developing a comprehensive framework to guide testing and evaluation of remote and in situ biosignatures. Our branch also hosts the Astrobiology Habitable Environments Database, which provides a central, high-quality, long-term data repository and discussion forum for mineralogical, textural, morphological, chemical, and isotopic information pertinent to astrobiology.
Work within our branch supports both current and future missions. Multiple mission instruments have been developed within the Exobiology Branch. For example, one instrument developed within the Exobiology Branch, CheMin, is currently operating on the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity). CheMin utilizes X-ray diffraction and fluorescence to provide definitive mineralogy of rock samples (both elemental analysis and crystal structure determination).