If you are trying to ask a question live during Ask an Astrobiologist, please do so in the main chatroom at the bottom of the screen! You can also ask on twitter @saganorg using #AskAstrobio

Right now, the SAGANet team is working hard to bring you a brand new version of the site! On our new platform, it will be much easier to ask your questions and get answers, interact with astrobiology Experts, and participate in our live show.

In the meantime, we have set up this temporary discussion forum where you can post your questions. We will do our best to move them over to the new site when we launch, so feel free to discuss anything astrobiology right here!

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Hi Jerry,

I'm happy to help you with specific questions!


Hi Sanjoy. I sent a few questions your way via e-mail by way of your @bmiss address on Dec 3 that outlined a few things I didn't understand. Should I just copy and paste those questions here?

Does astrobiology include space medicine? Or is that considered a separate discipline?

Honestly, jus about any study could be related to astrobiology in some way, but there are definitely connections between space medicine and astrobiology. Understanding how the space environment effects the health of humans and other organisms and how biology can overcome the effects of the space environment falls into better knowing how life may spread through the universe once biospheres become able to either shed their living material in some way (planetary impacts, massive eruptions, etc.) or when intelligent organisms set out into the space environment of their own accord.

I worked for JPL/NASA for 40 years and I spent a lot of time at JSC.  I did some work on microgravity experiments both at JSC and at Edwards AFB. One of the concerns we had was micromusculature atrophy in an extended microgravity environment. Atrophy of the arterial walls in the lower extremities due to a lack of gravity induced hydrostatic pressure was of particular concern. Inappropriate soft tissue remodeling appeared to be a serious problem. What is the status of this now?  It would seem to be a problem for a Mars mission.

Hello all,

I got to know about this website through professor Sara Imari Walker's interview on Sean Carroll's podcast, and was really excited to hear from scientists exploring a broader definition of what life is in the way she laid it. It seemed to me you guys operate in the general field of Object Oriented Ontology, among other schools of thought, is that correct?

I apologize if those are noob questions, I'm not a trained scientist; just very curious and an avid reader of philosophical and scientific works. I do have the goal of developing a thesis on the field of the ethics of space exploration (astroethics? Is that or could that be a thing?), but, unfortunately, that's a nonexistant program in my country as of now. Do you know of any course or program in that line in academia today?

Questions that intrigue me and that I'd like to investigate from a philosophical POV, for instance, are the impacts of space mining and other operations in which biological processes (meaning "intelligent" "life") actuate in the rate of matter and energy exchange from planets to the cosmos and vice-versa. Is this a valid scope of scientific investigation in your opinion, or have I just been watching way too much Trek?

Thanks in advance for you attention,

Hi Gina, 

     I recently graduated with my undergrad in Natural Sciences with a concentration in Biology from Excelsior, and on March 2nd, I will begin my graduate education via American Military University (AMU), in Space Studies.


     I'm in need of a bit of guidance, being that I'm not actively working in any field of science, some of the requirements and/or expectancies can be a bit foreign to me. 


     My curriculum at Excelsior didn’t include a chemistry, physics, or geology, so along the way I decided to try and take these courses when and wherever I could if I had an open elective to support it. I recently voiced my concerns to Excelsior after the fact about how I thought that these courses are usually considered core courses at most other colleges, including AMU.

     So, what I want to know is this. 


Q1. From a big picture perspective do not having these courses on my transcript matter?


     In any case, I was able to take both an Earth Science, and Chemistry course in seat, but sadly, no physics. 


Q2. I guess what I really would like to know if whether or not, NOT having exposure to all of the sciences (being B,E,C,A,P; Biology, Earth Science, Chemistry, Astronomy & Physics) would be looked down on?


Q3. If so, what are some alternatives to traditional college courses?


     I would really like to take a physics and another chemistry class prior to the start of my space studies graduate but then again I’d like to be certain that the motions that I’m going through will be recognized and accounted for.


Q4. Could MOOCs, ACE credits or classes provided by outlets such as Coursera , EdX, or www.study.com be used to supplant those traditional colleges or to serve as proof of understanding of the topics to a potential employer or team?

Q5. Or should I not worry about this and just spend all additional efforts going forward knocking out Astrobiology course work online via NASA?




Again, any help or guidance would be greatly appreciated. 



Hi Jerry,

These are really important questions for you to consider! I'm going to offer some brief responses here:

Q1 - It sounds like you've already been accepted to a graduate program in space studies. So, for the short-term having a physics course likely won't effect you. Of course, you'll be benefitted in your studies by learning some physics, but you can do that on the cheap with some textbooks and online resources. As for the longer-term, most employers don't care what classes you took in college nearly as much as they care about your acquired skills and work ethic.

Q2 - You definitely don't need exposure to all of the sciences to gain a job in the sciences or to pursue more advanced learning. If you're speaking directly to being involved in astrobiology, then taking a look at those of us in the field and our backgrounds will quickly show that we come from many different disciplines and only a very small number of us have even taken degrees in multiple fields. 

Q3- There are lots of ways to catch yourself up in physics and other studies. I honestly have always been that kind of nerd who loves to read old textbooks because there's so much good information in them. If you really want to have a certificate or other verification to show that you've studied in a certain area, then Coursera and other MOOCs are a great place to spend a small amount of money.

Q4 - As above, these online courses can be a great way to learn and you can put a certificate on your CV, but none of us can really speak to how much it may matter to an institution, employer, or team. That would be very case-dependent.

Q5 - For becoming an astrobiologist, you actually don't need to take any courses that are specifically titled "astrobiology". However, it certainly couldn't hurt and may help guide you a bit more in figuring out where in the realm of astrobiology you want to work. Since you are a little uncertain of your future direction right now, I think what might help the most right now is figuring out where you want to be in your career, finding others who are there, figuring out how they got there, and then figuring out how much of their paths are the same and how much is different. But, as always, take that with a grain of salt - there certainly is not single track or path to get where you want to go. 

I hope some of this helps.




       Thank you so much!

       This helps me tremendously and a thousand apologies if I came across a bit pushy, that wasn't my intent, but thank you nonetheless!


I keep wondering if the amphoteric nature of water, it being acidic and alkali at the same time, is what allows life to develop after nucleosynthetic evolution of the chemical elements in this universe?
All life on Earth is ultimately powered by electrons you see http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160613-there-are-microbes-that-eat...

Andrew, water is essential for life, but as a professional chemist, I can assure you the amphoteric nature is not really that significant. The key is hydrogen bonding, without which reproduction would be impossible. Reproduction requires the accurate transfer of information (although evolution requires the transfer to be capable of error!) and given the mass of information required for any complexity, this can only be done by mapping one polymer onto another. The information must be imparted by units that are different (e.g. 1 or 0) and for reasons outside the scope of a simple reply, only nucleobases work. These have to be attracted to their complementary base without external help during biogenesis, and they do that through forming either two hydrogen bonds (net attraction about 26 kJ/mol) or three (about 40 kJ.mol) and they are cleverly designed so they can't get this accidentally wrong. Now when you form polymers, the energy of linking between two strands is the sum of the interaction energies, and the force driving towards dissolution, entropy, is roughly proportional to the number of molecules. This is a bit oversimplified, but the key is, if you wish to separate the strands, the hydrogen bond energy linking them has to be overcome, and this can be done from water, which also forms hydrogen bonds and will replace all the ones that did the linking, so the separation is approximately neutral in energy, and the nucleic acids can reproduce.



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