This week the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science hosted a talk by Dr Zita Martins on her research in the field of astrobiology. Her work focuses on, among other things, studying organic matter from extra terrestrial sources as a possible starting point for the origin of life on Earth, and with Philae landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko just days before it wasn’t surprising to see every seat in the lecture theatre filled! The audience was given a tour of the current data on amino acids surviving on meteorites, comets and interstellar dust particles, emphasising the need for these molecules to be present for life to begin on Earth. What was also highlighted was the need to carefully refine methods used to detect life on other bodies in the solar system, as previous attempts may have failed simply due to a lack of sensitivity.
The most interesting part for me was seeing how varied her work was, often involving extensive fieldwork in terrestrial areas with similarities to the Martian surface, as a means of advising future missions in the search for life. The field of astrobiology though still new appears to be growing rapidly, and from studying the extremes of life, to the shock synthesis of organic compounds from impact events, to studying the atmosphere of Mars billions of years ago stilled trapped in Martian meteorites, the variety of work across the disciplines is fascinating, and it was great to hear another side of this expanding area of research.