and astrophysics in the intellectual enterprise of astrobiology,” in particular on the words “augment” and “integrate.” It understood “augment” as an instruction to find issues in astronomical/astrobiological research where fruitful work could be done that is not now being done. The integration of interdisciplinary research topics is relevant to all the areas of astrobiology research, not just with respect to astronomy. The topic stimulated broad interest on the part of all the committee members and led to some generic—but, the committee believes, important—recommendations designed to facilitate interdisciplinary research.
The discussions about the charge led to the committee’s specific approach to the study and to the structure of the report. Seven tasks were identified:
Outline current astronomical research relevant to astrobiology.
Define important areas that are relatively understudied and hence in need of more attention and support.
Address the means to integrate astrophysical research into the astrobiology enterprise.
Identify areas where there can be especially fruitful collaboration among astrophysicists, biologists, chemists, biochemists, planetary geologists, and planetary scientists that will serve the goals of astrobiological research.
Identify areas of astronomy that are likely to remain remote from the astrobiological enterprise.
Suggest areas where ongoing research sponsored by NSF, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can augment NASA support of astrobiological research and education in a manner that complements the astronomical interconnection with other disciplines.
Where applicable, point out the relevance to NASA missions.
Astrophysical research is a vital part of astrobiology today, especially with the addition of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) nodes that are primarily focused on astrophysics. This report identifies still more areas where astrophysical research can contribute to astrobiology, including the galactic environment, cosmic irradiation in its myriad forms, bolide impacts, interstellar and circumstellar chemistry, prebiotic chemistry, and photosynthesis and molecular evolution in an astronomical context.
Astronomy brings two important perspectives to the study of astrobiology. One is to encourage thinking in a nonterracentric way. The opportunities are vast for different conditions to produce different outcomes for life, even within the standard paradigm of carbon-based life with a nucleotide-based coding system. The ambient conditions could be different—hotter, colder, more radiation or less—and the coding system could be different. It will be a challenge to discern the most important convergent processes when the details of overwhelmingly complex life are different. The other perspective that astronomy brings to astrobiology is that the astronomical environment—from the host star, to the ambient interstellar gas through which a planetary system passes in its galactic journey, to cosmic explosions—is intrinsically variable. The dominant driver of this variability is probably the host star, which is likely to be susceptible to violent chromospheric activity and nearly continuous flares when it is young or if its mass is less than that of the Sun, the most likely situation. Life in an intrinsically variable environment raises deep and interesting issues of fluctuating mutation rates, genetic variation processes, and the evolution of complexity—and even of evolvability itself. Some of these issues overlap with topics being pursued in biomedical research.
This study attempts to identify areas where astrophysical research can fruitfully interact with research in the other disciplines of astrobiology: biology, geology, and chemistry. It also identifies some broad