Astrobiology: A Career For Those At The Final Frontier of Microbiology
Updated: Aug 14
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.
What Is Astro(micro)biology?
So what is Astromicrobiology anyways? Astrobiology is at the intersection of microbiology, physics, astronomy, and geology. They look for life on other planets, although never has the Prime Directive been needed as no sentient beings have been found 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.
Some areas have extremely high or low temperatures, some are consumed by radiation or extreme pressure, while others have poor nutrient content. They resemble the closest thing we have to space. We’d call all these places horribly inhospitable despite our fancy technology and modern comforts.
Although we are incapable of surviving in these locations, they are far from barren; life does occur. Microbes have adapted to live in the harshest conditions; we call these microbes 'extremophiles' (lovers of the extreme).
What Does An Astrobiologist Do?
Astrobiologist can use these locations and their microbial inhabitants to help answer existential questions including:
Are we alone in the universe?
To answer this question, astromicrobologist analyze 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, 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. 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?
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. An astrobiologist's salary has a wide range depending on your experience and education level. One can expect a salary of ~$66-118k USD annual income, mainly being hired by NASA or other countries' equivalents. Many work at the university level as well such as the University of Washington. Positions within Astrobiology also range. 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. In this role, you 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!
Nasa even has a list of MOOC’s if your interested