Research at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology

The ACA concentrates on planetary science, the origin and early evolution of life, modern analogues for ancient life, and takes a role in understanding how to integrate these areas of science with science communication in the wider student and public community.

We have some of the world’s outstanding scientists interested in planetary systems, several on this campus, and the opportunity to engage others nearby. We have the southern skies.

We are the custodians of the oldest convincing evidence of life on Earth, in the 3.5 billion year old rocks of the Pilbara region of WA. The Pilbara has become a Mecca for anyone interested in the early Earth and is the subject of major international projects, including several funded by NASA. ACA scientists are world leaders in this research.

Australia has some of the most significant environments dominated by microbes, the World Heritage area of Shark Bay being the foremost. The studies of this area illuminate the interpretation of the early rock record and guide the exploration for life elsewhere. This research is led by microbiologists in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences in the Faculty of Science at UNSW.

Most searches for life elsewhere focus on microbial life. While there is a substantial probability of finding such life, there is also the possibility of finding more advanced life. That is the focus of SETI - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - and Australia is already involved through the use of the Parkes radio telescope. The Centre will continue its involvement in that search.

From the outset the ACA has recognised the importance of integrating education and outreach into its research, and Carol Oliver has recently completed a major study of scientific literacy, using the field of astrobiology as an example. The results are consistent with those from the US and Europe, and indicate that there are systemic problems in the way science is taught in schools. We will continue to address this issue.