Astrobiology: The Search for Biosignatures in Our Solar System and Beyond

On December 4, the U.S. House Science Committee held a hearing on astrobiology and the search for signs of life in the Universe.

Testifying were Mary A. Voytek, NASA’s Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, Sara Seager, professor of physics and planetary science at M.I.T., and Steven J. Dick, the second Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

The hearing was primarily meant to share information on the current state of astrobiology research rather than craft new policy.

“During my time as NASA chief historian, everywhere I went, people wanted to know about life on other worlds — and they still do,” said Dick. “Astrobiology raises fundamental questions and evokes a sense of awe and wonder as we realize perhaps there is something new under the Sun, and under the suns of other worlds.”

“With Kepler [Space Telescope]’s help, more than 800 potential worlds have now been confirmed orbiting stars other than our Sun, and at least 5 of these are Earth-sized, and orbiting within the habitable zone of each of their stars,” said Voytek. “This reminds us just how important NASA’s work is to the understanding the universe and the potential for life beyond our solar system.”

“We’re truly at a unique time in human history; we stand on a great threshold in space exploration,” said Seager. “On the one side, we now finally know that small planets exist and are common. But on the other side lies the possibility to find the true Earths with signs of life. The point I want to make is this is the first time in human history we have the technological reach to cross the great threshold.”