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Astrobiologist Salary and Career Into a New Frontier

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

If you love things that redefine the edge of the spectrum, can’t decide if you’d like to research Ferengi or Firmicutes and enjoy daily existential crises on the meaning of humanity, then boy do I have a career corner for you! It's Astrobiology, the final frontier of microbiology. Come learn what an astrobiologist is and what is the expected astrobiologist salary!

A cartoon picture of what does astrobiology mean. A cowboy astronaut riding a tardigrade through space to the man in the moon.

What Is Astro(micro)biology?

So what is Astromicrobiology anyways? Who should go into this scientific discipline?

Astrobiology is at the intersection of microbiology, physics, astronomy, and geology. They look for life on other planets. Although, at this point, the Prime Directive is not necessary. They have not found any sentient beings as of yet. So, although astrobiology doesn’t put you in a lab with a Vulcan or Klingon, it can take you to some pretty inhospitable and epic earthly locations that can only be described as otherworldly. These of course would be the extreme environments of our world.

Some areas on earth have extremely high or low temperatures. Some are consumed by radiation or extreme pressure. Still, others have poor nutrient content. They resemble the closest thing we have to space. Humans call all these places horribly inhospitable. Even with our modern comforts and technology, we could not survive here.

Yet these locations are far from barren; life does occur. Microbes have adapted to live in the harshest conditions; we call these microbes 'extremophiles'. This means they are lovers of the extreme.

What Does An Astrobiologist Do?

Astrobiologist can use these extreme environments and their microbial inhabitants to help answer existential questions including:

Are we alone in the universe?

To answer this question, astromicrobologists work at analyzing samples from space looking for any presence of life.

How does life evolve?

In our own universe, there are many gaps in our understanding of evolution, particularly concerning the beginning of life. However, by studying extremophiles in their extreme environments, we can not only better understand how life evolved on our own planet but how life could evolve on another planet.

What is life? Is it Universal?

This is a tricky question and one debated in a number of scientific disciplines. All science and microbial knowledge stem from what we learned in the past. How life formed here may not be how it forms elsewhere. The building blocks of our understanding of life may not be universal. Our definition of life is always changing as we learn more about the world(s) around us. Atmosphere, temperature, conditions all affect how life may form.

What Skills Does A Astrobiologist Need?

This scientific discipline requires a lot of knowledge for a vast array of fields. An astrobiologist must have general knowledge in many STEM fields, including geology, planetary sciences, biology, physics, and astronomy. They often have a Ph.D. in one of these or similar fields. In the case of microbes, getting into a lab that studies extremophiles is a major plus.

Who Hires Astro(micro)biologists? And What Is An Astrobiologist Salary?

With any career, there can be a large salary range and an average salary may be hard to define. An astrobiologist's salary has a wide range depending on your experience and education level. How wide of a range? The average salary one can expect is between ~$66-118k USD annual income.

The main employers of astrobiologists are NASA or other countries' equivalents. Many astrobiologists work at the university level as well such as at the University of Washington.

Just like there is no average salary for astrobiologists there is also no average position that astrobiologists work at. You could be a scientist conducting research on the unknown or a university lecturer educating the next generation. You can even become a science writer/communicator/artist where you take complex science and condense it to something understandable for the public or media. Finally, you could go into policy. Astrobiologists that work in this role, may lobby for funding or help policymakers in their decisions impacting astrobiology.

Hey, who knows, in a few years, Trump’s Space Force of stormtroopers might be looking for an astrobiologist to climb aboard their knock-off USS Enterprise to go build a Death Star to destroy another planet. I wouldn’t though, I heard the Space Force scientist uniforms are going to be red!

Other Resources to check out!

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