Nearly 1,000 astrobiologists met in Seattle last week to present their latest research results and discuss the most pressing questions facing their field. The meeting, known as AbSciCon, takes place every two years and is the largest such gathering of astrobiologists.
This year the emphasis was on life detection, ocean worlds, and exoplanets. In the latter area, the neighboring Alpha Centauri system received particular attention. It appears we are on the verge of finally being able to acquire information on a nearby exoplanet’s habitability rather than just its physical characteristics such as mass and radius, and this has led to much anticipation in the community.
The greatest excitement at the meeting, however, was over the announcement that NASA has selected a new mission called Dragonfly to send a drone to Saturn’s moon Titan—a wonderfully exotic world with hydrocarbon lakes and an atmosphere roughly resembling that of early Earth. Titan has lots of organic chemistry going on, and this mission could reveal whether these complex molecules may have assembled to become primitive life.