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The Scientific Search for Life Outside the Earth

Talks by NASA Scientist


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dr. Dana Backman

NASA SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy)
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and
Harlow Shapely Visiting Lecturer of the American Astronomical Society


The SCSU Center for NASA Research and Technology and the SCSU NSF HBCU-UP/RISC were pleased to present the following two talks:



Planets Around Other Stars: How Soon Might We Find the Fabled "Pale Blue Dot?"

Review of extrasolar planet-hunting techniques and results, plus new observations of planetary construction debris disks around nearby stars, and information about NASA missions focused on planets and planet-forming disks such as Spitzer, SOFIA, Kepler, and Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF).



Looking for Life in All the Right Places: An Astrobiological Tour of the Solar System

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. Rovers Spirit and Opportunity have recently found clear evidence that Mars was once wetter and warmer than at present. In addition, Viking Mars lander soil test results 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.

SOFIA aircraft

Some 43 members of SCSU's campus community attended the 4 o'clock talk while 31 individuals listened to the 7 o'clock talk.

attendees at talk
attendees at talk
attendees at talk


These talks are hosted by SCSU's Center for NASA Research and Technology (CNRT) and the NSF-funded HBCU-UP/RISC Project. Additional support for this session has been provided by NASA's MUCERPI award to SCSU (NNG04GD62G),the SCSU Campus Office of the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium, NASA's Minority University Space Interdisciplinary Network (MU-SPIN) and NASA's Broker/Facilitator, the SouthEast Regional Clearing House (SERCH) at the College of Charleston and the American Astronomical Society's Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureship Program.