Just three weeks before E.T. flew back into movie theaters to celebrate his 20th anniversary, a group of interdisciplinary scientists, science fiction authors, teachers, and others interested in the real quest for extraterrestrial life assembled in the Silicon Valley for the 19th annual CONTACT conference (www.cabrillo.cc.ca.us/contact).

This year, as part of the conference, 12 scientists from various fields coalesced around the theme "Is life rife in the Universe?" in a day-long symposium at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. They offered up the most recent discoveries, analyses, and thoughts emanating from the frontiers of astrobiology, the field that studies—as Nobel laureate Baruch S. Blumberg, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, puts it—"biology elsewhere."

Interdisciplinary by nature, the basic science of astrobiology, Blumberg notes, is collaborative and conducted by widely distributed investigators exploring different approaches with new technologies. Although "biology elsewhere" remains elusive, Blumberg, 1975 winner...

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