I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised when Popular Mechanics got in touch with me a while back about writing a story about aliens. I had always associated the magazine with people who knew how to take their car apart down to the last bolt and put it back together again. (Me, I gush with pride if I can change a wiper blade.) But they’ve actually been making a big push into science reporting, and they wanted me to look into what scientists are learning about life on other planets. I ended up focusing specifically on how life on Earth (and in labs) can guide the search for aliens. That’s an angle I’ve been interested in for some time now, and has led to stories in Smithsonian and Discover. With moons spouting ice and other surprises in recent months, it was tricky to keep the story up to date, but I’m proud of the results, which are in the September cover story. You can get the text and some of the images online here. And if that doesn’t satisfy you, you can also learn how to build a shed.