Astrobiology is an emerging field of research worldwide still in the stages of defining itself. Research in the field requires a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together the fields of evolutionary biology, microbial paleobiology, sedimentary and ore deposit geology, geochemistry, planetary science and astronomy.
The Australian Centre for Astrobiology was established in 2001 to investigate three questions:
- How does life begin and evolve?
- Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?
- What is life’s future on earth and beyond?
The centre is based at the University of New South Wales but includes researchers from all around Australia. Strong links are maintained with the international community through membership of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Initially four major research themes are being pursued at the centre, building on current projects and expertise:
- The composition and evolution of microbial ecosystems at extreme temperatures.
- The evolution of early photosynthetic microbes.
- Developing and refining techniques in microbial palaeobiology.
- Target selection in the search for microbial life on Mars and other planets and moons.
Planetary science and planet search programs are a key element in astrobiological research and are being carried out at several locations in Australia. For details, see the planets listing.