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The Astrobiologist’s Guide to the Galaxy

In my last post, I detailed some of the hottest locations for astrobiology in our Solar System. Today, however, we’re going to be going farther afield- outside the Solar System entirely, in fact.

The discovery of exoplanets – planets that orbit other stars- has been one of the great scientific success stories of the last century. In less than 20 years, we’ve gone from a handful of early detections to literally over a thousand (plus thousands more “candidates” that are awaiting verification). Obviously, astrobiologists have been more than a little excited by this pace of discovery.

Detecting an exoplanet is no mean feat- such bodies are usually a million times dimmer than their host star, and the light of the star tends to overwhelm such faint emissions. However, several techniques have been developed to get around these limitations.

exoplanets.jpg

The earliest used, Doppler spectroscopy,takes advantage of the fact as a planet orbits a star, it “tugs” on its center of mass, causing it to “wobble” ever so slightly. The motion due to this wobble can be detected by looking for the resulting Doppler shift in the star’s spectra. However, this method is generally most effective in determining extremely large planets that orbit close to their parents stars (so called “hot Jupiters”), which are unlikely to host life.

The most successful method used to date has been transit photometry, which looks for tiny dips in the star’s light output as the planet crosses in front of it. This method does have some limitations- the star, the planet, and Earth have to be precisely aligned for the transit dip to be visible- but it’s a relatively easy signal to look for otherwise. Transit photometry has been used by a number of different observing missions, the most famous example being the spectacular planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

A few other planets have been detected using more esoteric methods, such as gravitational microlensing or timing pulsations in stars and pulsars. A scant handful have even been directly imaged, although this only feasible if the planet is extremely large, hot, and widely separated from its host star.

Using these methods, a whole zoo of exoplanets has been detected. Most of them are likely to be uninhabitable- but let’s take a look at the ones that might be a bit more promising for seekers of extraterrestrial life.

Keplers

Kepler-296e

One of the most Earth-like planets (at least in terms of mass and theoretical surface temperatures) yet discovered, Kepler-296e is 1.75 times the size of Earth.   It orbits a red dwarf star 1089 light years away, which is part of a binary system. It is located within the habitable zone of the star, where the temperature is warm enough for water to be liquid on the surface. Kepler-296’s habitable zone is much closer than the Earth is to the sun, owing to the cooler temperature of the host star; the planet orbits its star in only 34 days.

Kepler-442b

Located 1,120 light years from Earth, Kepler-442b also orbits a cooler red dwarf star. It’s 2.34 times the size of Earth, and would have a surface gravity about 30% greater (definitely the planet to go to if you want to get a good workout).

Kepler-62e

Detected 1,200 light years from Earth in the Lyra constellation, Kepler-62e is a member of an older star system, being likely billions of years older than Earth. It is thought to have a rocky composition (like Earth’s), and computer modeling suggests the planet could be largely covered by oceans. It’s considered a strong enough candidate for habitability that it’s been targeted for observation by the SETI program.

Gliese 832 c

Gliese.jpg

One of the closest potentially habitable planets detected, Gliese 832 c is a scant 16.1 lights away. It is thought to have an extremely elliptical orbit, as planets go- that is to say, the distance from its star varies considerably. Consequently, the surface temperature may swing from -40 degrees Celsius to 7 degrees Celsius, depending on where the planet is in its orbit; on average, however, the temperature is warm enough to allow liquid water. However, it is possible the planet may have developed a dense atmosphere, leaving it in an uninhabitably hot state similar to Venus. Further observation will be required to determine how friendly to life the planet really is.

KIC 8462852

KIC.png

Unlike the other entries in this list, KIC 8462852 isn’t a planet. In fact, we’re not entirely sure what it is.   The star first became well-known when analysis of Kepler data detected a intermittent, massive drop in the amount of light produced by the star- equivalent to covering up over half the star’s visible surface- something that had never been observed before. Furthermore, no dust or debris cloud has been detected around the star.

Initially, it was thought that the dimming could be due a mass of comets pulled inwards by a passing star- and, indeed, there’s another star in the local area that could’ve done such a thing. However, an examination of historical images showed that KIC 8462852 has been dimming for the last century- far too long a timescale for the comet explanation.

Lacking any other explanation, some researchers have begun speculating that the dimming could be due to the construction of megastructures in orbit around the star- perhaps a swarm of solar power satellites to capture the maximum amount of the star’s energy (popularly referred to as a Dyson sphere or Dyson swarm).

Admittedly, there are some problems with the aliens-did-it hypothesis- the laws of thermodynamics dictate that such structures would generate a large and detectable quantity of waste heat, which has yet to be observed. Observing campaigns by SETI also haven’t turned up any signs of intelligent life. Nonetheless, the sheer weirdness of the system means it will likely be a target of investigation for the foreseeable future. Whatever’s going on out there, it’s not like anything we’ve seen before.

Conclusion

These are just a handful of the potential living worlds that might be found throughout our galaxy. Undoubtedly more will be detected by upcoming missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, PLATO, and Kepler’s successor TESS. Get your travel itineraries ready- because the list of possible cosmic vacation hotspots is only going to keep growing!


TessTessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

 

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The Astrobiologist’s Guide to Life, the Solar System and Everything

As I’ve mentioned previously, my career is based around looking for alien life in the universe. Naturally, this brings up the very pertinent question of “Where exactly does one look for aliens?”

The answer, surprisingly, is “pretty much all over the place.” And with good reason – here on Earth, living organisms have been found in some of the most seemingly inhospitable places, which suggests that life is, above all, tenacious in the extreme.

Where to begin, then? Why not in our own backyard? As it turns out, there are more than a few places in our own Solar System that might harbor life. So, without further adieu, let’s take a guided tour of the Solar System’s hottest real estate, moving from the inner planets outwards.

Venus

Venus copy.png

Venus may seem like a surprising candidate – the surface is hot enough to melt lead, the atmospheric pressure is crushing, and it rains sulfuric acid. But Venus was not always so grim. It is thought that it may have had oceans for the first two billion years of its history, before the growing intensity of the young sun triggered a runaway greenhouse effect that boiled them off. Life may have been able to get a toehold in these early seas, as it did on Earth.

But where could such life have fled to under the onslaught of rising temperatures? Curiously, it turns out that while the surface may be utterly inhabitable, at ~50km above the ground, the atmosphere of Venus is remarkably Earth-like in temperature and pressure. It’s still fairly acidic, there’s no oxygen, and it’s still on the warm side, but there are organisms on Earth that will quite happily live in similar conditions. UV radiation would be a problem – however, interestingly enough, cylcooctasulfate – a sulfur compound that absorbs UV rays and re-emits them as visible light, and that’s used by terrestrial microbes as “sun screen” – is found in the Venusian atmosphere at an altitude of 50km.

Earth

Earth.png

No, I’m not suggesting Earth’s been invaded – I’m instead referring to the idea of the shadow biosphere. The basic premise of the shadow biosphere is that we assume that all life on Earth is biochemically similar to us (e.g., it uses the same types of proteins and DNA, same chemical reactions, and so forth), and therefore we would fail to detect microbes that used radically different biochemistry. The microbes wouldn’t be “aliens”, per se, as it’s assumed that they would’ve evolved here on Earth – but such a finding would still be incredibly significant, as it would suggest that life may developed independently on Earth, multiple times.

Supporters of the shadow biosphere hypothesis point to the fact that the vast majority of microbes can’t actually be cultured in a laboratory, and as a result, we know very little about them. There have been searches for “weird life”, including, most notoriously, GFAJ-1. GFAJ-1 was initially reported to use arsenic in the construction of its DNA (as opposed to phosphorus, which is what all known life uses instead). However, after its discovery was announced, further experimentation couldn’t detect the presence of arsenic in its DNA, and biochemical modeling suggested that DNA using arsenic wouldn’t actually be chemically stable. The search goes on.

Mars

Mars

This list obviously wouldn’t be complete without everyone’s favorite red planet, Mars. Mars has long held a fascination, in part due to early observations of channels or canals on the surface (these were later revealed to be the result of an optical illusion). As it turns out, such a reputation might be warranted – Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our Solar System, and shows evidence of being a much warmer, wetter planet in its past (most notably, the presence of dry river networks and lake beds). In the present day, there also appears to be seasonal flows of liquid brine or extremely salty water, most likely the result of salts absorbing water vapor from the atmosphere.

As I mentioned in my previous essay, methane has also been detected in the Martian atmosphere. Since methane isn’t chemically stable under Martian conditions, something must actively producing it. Stranger yet, the production appears to be sporadic, suggesting that this is the result of an active process. While there are purely geological processes that can produce methane, here on Earth, the vast majority of methane is produced by microbes, which obviously raises suspicions.

It’s unlikely the Martian microbes – if they exist – are living on the surface, due to the high flux of radiation. Instead, they’ll most likely be found in deep subsurface habitats or aquifers, or potentially underneath the polar ice caps. Future missions to Mars (notably the ESA’s ExoMars and NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover) will hopefully give us better answers to the age old question of life on Mars.

Europa

Europa.png

Moving into the outer Solar System, Europa is one of the four major moons of Jupiter, and is covered entirely by a thick layer of ice. It’s been a target of great interest to astrobiologists since the data from the Voyager missions suggested the presence of a vast ocean underneath the ice layer. The thickness of the ice shell and the depth of the ocean is subject to debate, but it’s thought that it could be as much as 100 miles deep, and encompass a volume of water twice the size of all of Earth’s oceans. Given the importance of liquid water to life as we know it, this obviously makes it a potential candidate for habitability.

Due to the complete absence of sunlight underneath the ice shell, if there’s life on Europa, it’s probably clustered around hydrothermal vents, much like the vent ecosystems seen on ocean floors here on Earth. These vents are driven by volcanic heating driven by the intense tidal forces of Jupiter, which also keeps the ocean from freezing, and is also most likely responsible for the alleged plumes of water erupting from the surface.

Several missions are planned to study Europa – ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer and NASA’s Europa Multi-Flyby Mission, which will hopefully be able to measure the thickness of the ice shell, gather more data on the chemical composition of the surface, and sample the surface plumes (if they exist). Proposals have been circulating to actually drill down and explore the ocean, but such a mission is a while off.

Enceladus

Enceladus.png

Similar to Europa, Enceladus is an ice covered moon orbiting Saturn. It features extensive plumes of water erupting from its southern hemisphere, thought to originate in a subsurface ocean. The exact mechanisms driving the plumes hasn’t been determined, but there’s likely hydrothermal activity in play. Since the plumes are so extensive, the Cassini mission in orbit around Saturn has been able to conveniently sample some of the erupted material, and discovered that it has a high salt content (suggesting hydrothermal activity) and traces of simple organic compounds. Given the presence of organics, liquid water, and a likely energy source, Enceladus has become a hot topic amongst astrobiologists, and will hopefully be the target of future exploration

Titan

Titan.png

Another moon of Saturn, Titan is the second largest moon in the Solar System, and the only one with a dense atmosphere. The atmosphere is made up of a mixture of nitrogen, methane, and a mixture of organic compounds. Titan is a chilly -355 degrees Fahrenheit, so cold that methane is liquid at the surface. In fact, the most interesting thing about Titan is that liquid methane takes the place of water – there are rivers and lakes of the stuff.

Consequently, unlike the other worlds we’ve looked at, if there’s life on Titan, it’s very different from the water-based life we’re familiar with. Potential biochemical pathways have been identified for the Titanian atmosphere, and, interestingly enough, some of the features in Titan’s atmospheric composition would be consistent with presence of metabolizing organisms. Nonetheless, life on Titan remains a much more speculative topic, and will require further exploration of this mysterious, haze shrouded moon.

Conclusion

While Earth may be the most habitable world in our Solar System, it isn’t the only place life might have evolved. No alien life has been conclusively detected, but the hunt is on. The most exciting aspect of this search is that if life evolved independently, multiple times within the same solar system, it suggests that the emergence of life is a common event.

In other words, if we discover that our Solar System is teeming with life, it’s likely that so is the rest of the galaxy.


Tess

Tessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

I Hunt Aliens for a Living

When people find out that I’m an astrobiologist – that is, my work concerns the search for life on other planets, amongst other things- invariably, the first question is, “Have you found any yet?”

So, to start, I’d like to say for the record, that no, I haven’t (believe me, you would have heard about it if I had). But while that goal remains unattained, astrobiologists have still made astounding discoveries about life in the universe – and the finding of truly alien life may not be that far off.

I think the reason people find my field of research so fascinating is because it tackles some very foundational questions. How did life originate? Under what conditions can it survive? Where else might we find it? And what might it look like when we do? Because of the scale of these questions, astrobiology isn’t really a single field, per se – but rather a collections of many different disciplines (including, but not limited to, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, and planetary science), all trying to come up with answers.

Moon
Strap in for a good ol’ fashion existential crisis!

In order to determine the likelihood of finding life elsewhere in the universe, we first must know how easy or difficult it is for life to emerge in the first place. This is the realm of the prebiotic chemists, who focus on how living systems can develop from simple chemistry (sometimes poetically referred to as abiogenesis). There are different theories as to how this happened – some scientists suggest that RNA, a molecule similar to DNA that has the capability to reproduce itself may have been the forerunner to life as we know it; others suggest that metabolic processes, or the creation of simple bubble-like “protocells” set the stage for life. It should be noted that these theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive – it has been suggested that life may have originated independently multiple times on Earth, competed and merged with each other, and finally gave rise to the biosphere we know today.

Difference-DNA-and-RNA.jpg

I should note that a general assumption about life in the universe is that it’ll most likely be similar to us, biochemically speaking. The foundations of Earth biochemistry are carbon (due to the fact that it can easily form complex molecules) and water (which is particularly good at dissolving molecules, and appears to be abundant through the universe). The latter was considered so key to life as we know it that, for a period of time, the motto of NASA’s astrobiology program was “Follow the Water” (this is also why there’s so much buzz whenever NASA announces the detection of liquid water elsewhere in our solar system). With that said, more exotic biochemistries – using silicon instead of carbon, for example, or using ammonia or methane instead of water – have also been proposed.

In addition to how life comes into being, we also must know how many places are available for it to live. One approach to this question is studying the abundance of habitable planets in the universe. Exoplanets – planets found around stars other than our sun- have been discovered to be staggeringly common. The Kepler space telescope mission, in particular, has found dozens of potentially Earth-like worlds, many located in the “Goldilocks zone” of their main star (where the temperature is “just right” for liquid water to exist on the surface).

GZone.png

We don’t know necessarily know if these planets are actually inhabitable or not (though we hope to answer that with future missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite; I’m particularly fond of the latter since it shares my name), but these early findings are certainly promising.

Another angle on the question of habitability is studying the conditions on which life can survive – especially in environments that seem extreme and inhospitable to us. As it turns out, life is extraordinarily hardy, with organisms, known as extremophiles, making their homes in even incredibly harsh surroundings. From microbes living in the superheated water of hydrothermal systems to radiation-eating fungi discovered in the ruins of Chernobyl , it appears that life is amazingly adaptable. While most extremophiles are microbes, there are some more complex organisms that hold this distinction as well – my particular favorite being the iceworm, a glacier-dwelling invertebrate that is so well adapted to the cold that it will literally melt if its temperature is raised too high above freezing.

ice-worm_1813.jpg

So, having established how life might originate and where it might survive, the next question is how might we detect it? This brings us to one of the primary areas of research in astrobiology – the identification and detection of biosignatures. Biosignatures are simply the chemical and physical traces left by living systems on their environment. A classic example is the presence of both methane and oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere – since methane isn’t chemically stable in those conditions, some process must actively be producing it (incidentally, methane isn’t stable on Mars, either – which is why there was such excitement when very low levels of it were detected by the Curiosity mission). Biosignatures can also include microfossils or other geological traces left by microbes, and spectral lines in the light reflected off a planet indicating the presence of chlorophyll.

Nemesis_tricorder
I am still waiting for my engineering counterparts to hook me up with one of these.

Related to biosignatures is probably the most famous aspect of astrobiology – the search for technosignatures. As the name suggests, these are indicators of the presence of a technological civilization. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is the most well known effort to locate signs of an advanced aliens, but it is not the only one- there also astrobiologists keeping their eyes peeled for everything from signs of astroengineering (constructions the size of stars) to potentially looking for the lights of alien cities in the spectral signatures of planets. A find of this sort is the holy grail of astrobiology – after all, as exciting as an alien microbe might be, we’rd really prefer something we could talk to.   It’s worth noting, though, it is statistically unlikely that any other alien civilization is at the same technology level as us, and may be much further advanced on the Kardashev scale, so they may not be as interested in what we have to say.

Are we alone? Where did we come from? These are just some of the questions astrobiologists hope to answer. And, even better, you can help the astrobiology community answer them, too! The field has been a pioneer in the use of citizen science – recruiting assistance from everyday people.   Projects include SETI@Home (a screensaver that uses your computer’s idle processing power to search for signals in SETI radio data) and Planet Hunters (a website where users can help detect planets around other stars).

PlanetHunters
Be part of the search!

So, if you find the search for life in the universe as thrilling and fascinating as I do, then feel free to join in the fun! Who knows- you might just find help us find something.

And I’d finally have a good answer for “Have you found any yet?”


Tess

Tessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

Looking Skywards

‘Looking Skywards’ is part of a multi-post series where the writers of Some Nerd Girl share their Origin Stories – in other words, when and how did the nerdening happen?!

It’s hard to say when I first became a nerd. My earliest memories include my mom reading me J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters to Father Christmas, and, later, excerpts from Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern series. I’ve always been fascinated with the natural world, and was a pretty outdoorsy kid. And from an early age I loved stargazing. However, even if I can’t narrow my entry to nerdom specifically, there are a few discrete events that definitely set me on my current path.

The first one I can think of is when I was 7 or so, my parents took me to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in D.C. At some point during that trip, they decided to treat my twin brother and I to a showing at the IMAX theater. The film we saw was a documentary narrated by none other than Leonard Nimoy, entitled Destiny in Space.

DestinyInSpace

To be honest, the film actually hasn’t aged all that well, but at the time, the imagery absolutely captivated me. Soaring over the newly radar-mapped terrain of Venus. Watching Mars become slowly more Earth-like as it was terraformed. Astronauts spacewalking above the surface of the Earth. From that point on, I had been bitten by the space bug, and I got it bad.

A few years later, at a Scholastic Bookfair (remember those?) my brother picked up a beautiful illustrated paperback, entitled Extraterrestrial: A Field Guide for Earthlings. It was the first book I had ever come across that presented the possibility of alien life as a serious scientific topic. It imagined how actual extraterrestrial lifeforms might evolve under a variety of environmental conditions, what sense organs they might use, possible body layouts, and even speculated on more radical forms of life that we might not even initially recognize. While it didn’t seem like as a big of idea at the time, the idea that aliens were a concept that could be seriously addressed scientifically stuck with me.

Although this guy doesn't help _at all_.
Although this guy doesn’t help at all.

As I hit middle school, I became increasingly interested in the sciences. Unsurprisingly, I also got more into science fiction, as well. After cutting my teeth on my mom’s old Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey paperbacks (guess where I got my scifi gene from?), I started exploring the science fiction and fantasy section of the local library. First, I read mostly McCaffrey, but soon serendipitous discoveries lead me to other authors. The cover of Ringworld intrigued me, and introduced me to Larry Niven, who’s hard science fiction I devoured (I was particularly fond of the Known Space series). Via The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I discovered Robert Heinlein, though I found a lot of his writings a bit more difficult to get into (I did slog through most of I Will Fear No Evil, but I had additional motivation). Later my list of favorite authors would include Alfred Bester, Rodger Zelanzy, Neal Stephenson, Lois McMaster Bujold (who’s Vorkosigan Saga is one of my current favorites), Connie Willis, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman.

So... much... great... sci fi!
So… much… great… sci fi!

Also, as an aside, I became a massive band geek, and would later have the distinction of being That One Guy in the Piccolo Section, but that’s another story for another day.

As I made it into high school, naturally I began to think about college and careers. Unsurprisingly, I looked at space-related careers – considering being perhaps an astronomer or astrophysicist, or maybe an aerospace engineer. I would later back down from both of those careers as, at the time, I thought they’d be too math intensive for me (ironically, my actual work now is focused pretty much exclusively on mathematical modeling). In any case, the question was somewhat incidental – from age 12 onward, I knew what I really wanted to do was be an astronaut – but I figured I should at least have some options.

However, towards the end of high school, I somehow stumbled upon a new and upcoming field of study: astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life throughout the universe, including beyond Earth. While I was still fascinated with studying life beyond Earth from a scientific point of view, I had no idea that this was a real area of study, with NASA support and everything. I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life.

This. Changes. Everything!
This. Changes. Everything!

In college, wanting to cover all my bases, I double majored in astronomy and biology, and did my senior paper for my astronomy degree on the possibility of biosignatures on Mars. During the summer before my senior year, I also got the opportunity to intern at NASA, analyzing images of Jupiter’s moon Europa from the Hubble Space Telescope; to date, that experience remains the best summer job I’ve ever had.

Recognize!
Recognize! Yes, I was geeking out a little!

At some point, I went to a talk given by former astronaut Kathy Thornton, who mentioned off-hand that having a terminal degree (e.g., a PhD or an M.D.) was a requirement to have a serious chance of being selected into the astronaut corps. While I don’t want to say this single-handedly persuaded me to go to grad school, it certainly sealed the deal.

I eventually located a graduate school that had an astrobiology lab (there are about a dozen universities in the U.S. that are involved in astrobiology research), though, ironically, rather than astronomy or biology, it was actually housed in the geology and environmental science departments. I got my first chance to do real scientific research – the topic I eventually focused on was using mathematical modeling to help understand microbial ecosystems that exist in extreme environments (underneath glaciers, in hot springs, and so forth). The hope is to use these models to try to characterize what constitutes a habitable environment for life (for example, if we find microbial communities underneath the ice sheets of Antarctica, is it possible similar communities exist underneath the polar cap of Mars), and what sorts of detectable effects those ecosystems have on their environments (this may sound dry, but it isn’t; my master’s thesis involved this place).

Here I am, doing science-y stuff!
Here I am, doing science-y stuff!

At the moment, I’m currently working on my PhD in the subject. My dream job is to be a researcher for NASA, being on the cutting edge in our search for life throughout our Solar System. Following this path has allowed me to embrace my nerdiness to new levels, turning a passion into a career (and if you think cons are nerdy, wait until you experience a science conference). I’ve gone from reading science fiction to pretty much living it (I’m a gender-changing scientist who hunts for aliens- tell me my life isn’t the plot of a New Wave scifi story from the early ’70s). And I’m sure there’s even greater heights of nerdiness awaiting me on my journey.

And for the record, no matter what, I still fully intend to become an astronaut.


Tess

Tessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

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