Thursday, May 6, 2010
Looking for Life in All the Right Places: Astrobiology of the Solar System
Dana Backman (**)
Director of Outreach, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)
As soon as the Copernican revolution made humanity aware that the Earth is one planet among many, speculation began about the possibility that other planets might be inhabited. The main focus of interest always has been Mars, with the most Earth-like surface conditions of any planet. Mars orbiters and rovers have found clear evidence that Mars was once wetter and warmer than at present. In addition, Viking lander tests of Martian soil from the 1970s indicated possible biological activity, and some investigators believe Mars rock ALH84001 contains fossil microbes plus their metabolic products. Beyond Mars, there is evidence for liquid water under ice crusts on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as well as abundant organic compounds in the atmosphere and on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. Could any of these worlds harbor Earth-like, water-and-carbon-based life? Astrobiology research and planetary exploration may reveal answers within just a few decades.
(**) Harlow Shapley Lecturer of the American Astronomical Society
Refreshments at 11:00 AM. Seminar begins at 11:10 AM.
Building 8, Room 241
For further information, please call (909) 869-4014