Graduate student Jeff Bowman examines "frost flowers", microbially-enriched ice crystals on the Arctic sea ice.
Graduate student David Smith with Professor Peter Ward on James Ross Island, Antarctica, searching for fossils that hold clues to ancient climate and extinction patterns on Earth.
UWAB graduate students Megan Smith and Elena Amador sample waters from the highly acidic Rio Tinto in Spain looking for an analog to early Martian environments.
Postdoc and UWAB Alum William Brazelton (PhD, ’10), high in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, searches for microbial life fueled by serpentinization.

Welcome to Astrobiology at the University of Washington

UWAB Headlines


Follow us on Instagram!

We're happy to announce that you can now follow UW Astrobiology on Instagram. To learn more about what life as an astrobiologist is like, and to stay updated on what's happening in the UWAB community, follow us at @UW.Astrobiology! MORE>


VPL Featured in The Atlantic

An extended article in The Atlantic explores the current state of exoplanet research, and highlights the role of UWAB's affiliated Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) in the search for Earth-like planets—featuring commentary by UWAB director Victoria Meadows and Prof. Rory Barnes. MORE>


Sunsets on Titan Reveal the Complexity of Hazy Exoplanets

UWAB alumnus Tyler Robinson and team have discovered that we can learn more about exoplanet atmospheres by observing sunsets on Saturn's moon, Titan. With observational data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, they have used Titan as a proxy for a transiting exoplanet—finding that the presence of a hazy atmosphere may significantly restrict what we can learn about a world's potential habitability.   MORE>


Free Public Lecture — Finding Life (05/22)

On the evening of Thursday, May 22nd, UW Astrobiology presents Finding Life: On Earth, on Mars, and throughout the Cosmos, with Dr. Steven Benner from The Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Gainesville, Florida. This event will be free and open to the public! However, pre-registration is required to guarantee seating. To register, click here. For more details on the event, visit the following link. MORE>


"Tilt-A-Worlds" Could Be Potentially Habitable

UWAB researcher Rory Barnes, alumnus John Armstrong, and collaborators have determined that a fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life—a finding which may dramatically increase the number of known worlds thought to be potentially habitable. The paper was published in this month's issue of Astrobiology. MORE>


Free Public Lecture — The Kepler Mission (04/16)

On the evening of Wednesday, April 16th, UW Astrobiology presents The Kepler Mission: Exotic Solar Systems on the Path to Earth-Like Planets, with Dr. Jonathan Fortney from UC Santa Cruz. This event will be free and open to the public. MORE>


Announcing the Spring 2014 AB Colloquium!

We have added the first round of dates and speakers for this spring's AB colloquium series to our Seminars page. Talk topics, abstracts, and additional speakers will be added as they become available, so check back soon for more info. MORE>


UWAB Researchers Devise New Method for Understanding Exoplanet Atmospheres

A new method devised by UWAB graduate student Amit Misra and collaborators makes use of "dimer molecules" to help determine pressure in exoplanetary atmospheres, and thus to better assess a planet's potential for habitability and life. The paper was published in this month's issue of Astrobiology, and has been featured in a news article by Science magazine. MORE>


Interview with Prof. David Catling Featured in UW Today

UWAB faculty member David Catling (ESS) was recently interviewed for an article in UW Today, about his new book "Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction", published earlier this month. MORE>


New Research Reveals Temperature Rule for Planetary Atmospheres

UWAB researchers Tyler Robinson and David Catling have just published research in Nature Geoscience that reveals the reason for the atmospheric "tropopause"— a level in a planet's atmosphere between the troposphere and stratosphere where the air stops cooling and begins growing warmer. In their paper, Robinson and Catling explain that this effect is likely caused by increased atmospheric transparency to thermal radiation at low pressures. With this knowledge, astronomers may be able to better determine an exoplanet's potential for habitability and life. MORE>


UWAB Fall 2013 Newsletter Released!

For up-to-date news about what's going on with UW Astrobiology, check out the latest issue of our newsletter! MORE>


Greenhouse Gas May Explain Liquid Water on Early Mars

While the evidence for liquid water on early Mars is well established, researchers have been hard-pressed to explain how this might have happened, considering the sun was much fainter in the past than it is today. New research by alumnus Ty Robinson and several UWAB collaborators now shows that in addition to carbon dioxide and water vapor, Mars's ancient atmosphere could have also contained just enough hydrogen to create a strong greenhouse effect, raising temperatures enough to allow for liquid water on the planet's surface. MORE>


Fourth Dual-Title PhD Awarded

Congratulations to Rika Anderson for graduating with UWAB's fourth Dual-Title PhD! Rika successfully defended her dissertation on October 18th, 2013, and graduates with a PhD in Oceanography & Astrobiology. MORE>


Follow our latest workshop on Twitter!

Next week (Sep. 8-12), our students will be traveling to Montana for UWAB's annual workshop, where they will learn about mass extinctions and meteorite impacts, and will gain hands-on experience in fossil collection. UWAB student Chantz Thomas will be sharing notes and photos from the trip live on Twitter, so be sure to follow @UWAstrobio for updates! MORE>


New Estimates for the Probability of a Runaway Greenhouse

Whether a planet is able to avoid a "runaway greenhouse" fate strongly depends on how close it is to the inner edge of its star's habitable zone. New work by UWAB researchers shows that less thermal radiation may be required for a planet to trigger this process than was previously thought. This suggests that the habitable zone could be narrower than we think, and that planets must be further from their stars to be considered hospitable for life. MORE>


UWAB Awards Third Dual-Title PhD

Congratulations to Marcela Ewert Sarmiento for graduating with UWAB's first dual-title PhD in Oceanography & Astrobiology! Marcela successfully defended her dissertation on July 22, 2013, and joins Tyler Robinson (PhD 2012, Astronomy & Astrobiology) and David J. Smith (PhD 2012, Biology & Astrobiology) as the third recipient of UWAB's new Dual-Title PhD. MORE>


Research Shows "Snowball" Planets Are Less Likely Around Cooler Stars

Graduate student Aomawa Shields, along with a team of other UWAB researchers, has recently published research arguing that planets orbiting cooler stars are less likely to turn into icy "snowball" worlds. The explanation behind this apparent paradox is that cool stars emit more longer-wavelength, near-infrared light, which is readily absorbed by a planet, heating it up. By comparison, hot stars emit more high-energy visible and UV light. If a planet is already icy, it will easily reflect these wavelengths, cooling the planet and leading to more ice, in a cycle called "ice-albedo feedback". Shield's research will be released in the August issue of Astrobiology.     MORE>


Discovery of Three New 'Super-Earths' in the Habitable Zone

UW Astronomer Rory Barnes, along with a team of international collaborators, have just announced their discovery of three potentially-habitable 'super-Earth' planets orbiting the nearby GJ667C, a red dwarf star only 22 light years from Earth. While the star had previously been known to host two planets, these new observations bring the total number of confirmed planets in the system to six, with an unconfirmed seventh. “Instead of observing 10 stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them,” Barnes says. MORE>


UWAB Spring 2013 Newsletter Released!

For up-to-date news about what's going on with UW Astrobiology, check out the latest issue of our newsletter! MORE>


UWAB Researcher Eric Agol Discovers Most Earth-like Exoplanet to Date

In the latest discovery from the Kepler Space Telescope, UW astronomer Eric Agol has identified Kepler-62f: an exoplanet in its star's habitable zone, with a radius only 40% larger than Earth— making it the smallest potentially habitable exoplanet found to date. Kepler-62f has an orbital period of 267 days, and belongs to a multi-planet system orbiting a K2 dwarf star roughly 1200 light years from Earth. Although Kepler's mass and density have not been measured, it is likely to have a rocky composition. MORE>


UWAB Student Elena Amador Wins Award at LPSC 2013

Last month at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Woodlands, Texas, UWAB graduate student Elena Amador won the Dwornik Award for best graduate oral presentation. Her talk highlighted her work with UWAB's Deb Kelley and Billy Brazelton ("The Lost City Hydrothermal Field: A Spectroscopic and Astrobiological Martian Analog"). Congrats, Elena!   MORE>


UWAB Scientist Rory Barnes's Tidal Venuses Research Featured in Astrobiology

In his latest paper, recently featured in Astrobiology, UWAB's Rory Barnes explores the evolution of hypothetical "Tidal Venuses", tidally-heated terrestrial exoplanets experiencing a runaway greenhouse effect.       MORE>


UWAB Scientist Rory Barnes's work on Exomoons Featured in Astrobiology

Research by UWAB's Rory Barnes has been featured as the cover story in the latest issue of Astrobiology! In the paper "Exomoon Habitability Constrained by Illumination and Tidal Heating", Barnes explores the effects that physical and orbital parameters may have on the habitability of "exomoons", or moons belonging to exoplanets-- which it may now be feasible to detect.   MORE>