Extremophiles: Extreme Life on Other Worlds?
Extremophiles are organisms that live in extreme environments on Earth. Scientists have investigated their ability to survive to high temperatures, UV radiation, salty environments and places that are inhospitable for humans and most creatures on Earth. By studying conditions under which life can thrive, we hope to understand life elsewhere – where to look for it and what it could look like -- or simply to hypothesize if it would be possible for life to evolve and survive on other planetary bodies. We invited two scientists to discuss the role of extremophiles in astrobiology and the search for life beyond Earth: Jon Rask is a research scientist in the Office of the Center Director at NASA Ames Research Center whose research focuses on human and robotic space exploration. Jared Broddrick is a biologist at the Exobiology Branch at Ames Research Center applying systems biology techniques to questions of interest to the astrobiology community.
Both researchers have explored the type of extremophile life that lives in hot springs, which led to significant findings on how life can adapt to unusual environmental niches. They will tell us about their research and how it relates to the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
Death from the Skies?
Are we about to be snuffed by a large space rock? If you’ve been fretting about climate change, nuclear proliferation, the coronavirus, or dispiriting teenage acne, here’s something else to give your worry beads a workout. A British tabloid – the Daily Express – announced this week that an asteroid about 3 miles in size will “close-in on Earth” at the end of April. And that was just the start of the news. What followed was truly ominous: namely, this object “could end human civilization if it hits.”
Are We Alone? The Search for Life in the Universe
The SETI Institute is bringing SETI Talks to San Francisco for the first time, thanks to a partnership with U.C. Berkeley Extension. Three scientists will discuss their individual approaches to answering the question, “are we alone?” and how they are searching for life elsewhere in the universe. Will we find a so-called technosignature, evidence of advanced technological civilizations? Should we explore places in our solar system with liquid water, such as Europa or Enceladus, for microbial life? And what can the study of exoplanets tell us about the possibility of extraterrestrial life? What are the near-term chances of discovering some form of life elsewhere?
Imaging Exoplanets: From Adaptive Optics to Starshades In Space
Direct imaging of exoplanets – “seeing” the planet as a separate point of light near a star - is extremely difficult, and several decades ago, scientists used to say that it would be impossible to image Earth-like exoplanets. Today this seems possible, using some combination of adaptive optics technology, coronagraphs, or starshades. Adaptive lets telescopes on the ground compensate for the Earth’s atmosphere. Coronagraphs use ultraprecise masks inside telescopes to block the diffracted light from a bright star. Starshades combine a space telescope with a huge flower-shaped spacecraft that flies in formation to block the starlight before it even reaches the telescope... So what are we waiting for? What are the technical challenges associated with developing an exoplanet-hunting space telescopes? The future NASA Wide-Field Infrared Survey telescope could test out some of these technologies by studying Jupiter-like planets, and the proposed Habitable Planets Explorer (HabEX) mission could fully integrate them in a search for earthlike planets around dozens of nearby stars.
Newest FRB Could Be A Rosetta Stone
Recently, this unusual-looking instrument, located in the forested hills of southern British Columbia and known as the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, added to its list of accomplishments by finding yet another Fast Radio Burst (FRB) source. Many dozen FRBs have been uncovered since the first was found in 2007. But despite this imposing collection, we still don’t know what these strange objects are. Clearly, something taking place in the far depths of the cosmos is burping radio waves into space. The fact that FRBs for which we know the distance are far away – millions or billions of light-years – indicates that whatever they are, they’re pretty rare. Could they be the result of colliding black holes, or neutron star smashups? These were attractive ideas when FRBs were first found because of the large amounts of energy such cosmic head-ons would release. Sadly, they became less appealing once astronomers found FRB’s that burp more than once. Black holes and neutron stars are reluctant to back up and slam into one another again.
Day to Day Operations of the InVADER Instrument - InVADER Mission
Evan Eshelman goes over the day to day operations of the InVADER instrument. The InVADER mission will study underwater hydrothermal systems at Axial Seamount, the largest and most active volcano on western boundary of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate off the coast of Oregon. The vents at the Axial Seamount generate chemical energy which can sustain life, and are high-fidelity analogues to putative vent systems on Ocean Worlds. For information: https://invader-mission.org/
The Microbiology, Geochemistry, and Mineralogy of Hydrothermal Vents - InVADER Mission
Professor Jan Amand is interested in the microbiology, geochemistry, and mineralogy of hydrothermal vents. The InVADER mission will study underwater hydrothermal systems at Axial Seamount, the largest and most active volcano on western boundary of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate off the coast of Oregon. The vents at the Axial Seamount generate chemical energy which can sustain life, and are high-fidelity analogues to putative vent systems on Ocean Worlds. For information: https://invader-mission.org/
TESS Finds a Planet in the Habitable Zone
Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak discusses a new discovery by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
Are We About to Find Life on Mars?
Over the past six months, numerous articles have reported weird anomalies in the atmosphere of Mars, from an outburst of methane in June 2019 to patterns in oxygen concentrations that cannot be explained by any known atmospheric or surface processes on the Red Planet. Perhaps more intriguing is the Viking Lander (Viking LR) experiment. In 1976, each of the two Viking landers performed experiments on Martian soil samples. The samples tested positive for metabolism, and researchers recently claimed that like on Earth, this is a sign for the presence of a Martian life. Finally, an Ohio scientist claims to have found photographic proof of "insect and reptile-like" life on Mars. This controversial result has been discussed at length in the media, even though most scientists rejected it. What does this mean? Are we on the verge of announcing the most profound story since humans first wondered about the existence of life elsewhere? Or are these coincidences that can be explained by geological processes, failed experiments or pareidolia? We invited two SETI Institute scientists who are experts on Mars to discuss these exciting and out of this world results. Biologist Kathryn Bywaters who has studied life in some of the most extreme environments on Earth and planetary scientist Pascal Lee who focuses on water on Mars and human exploration of the Red Planet. Both scientists will tell us if indeed we are about to discover life on Mars and the consequences of this significant discovery.
Another Visitor from Interstellar Space
SETI Institute's Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak talks about Comet 2I/Borisov.
Hygiea: Asteroid or Dwarf Planet?
Director Simon Steel spoke with SETI Institute senior scientist Franck Marchis about the asteroid Hygiea and the discovery that it may be classified as a dwarf planet. Published as a Facebook Live on December 19, 2019.
The Moons of Neptune
The latest information about the moons of Neptune with Senior Scientist Mark Showalter and Astronomer Seth Shostak. Recorded Live on December 12, 2019.
Science and Art at the SETI Institute
Technosignatures vs. Biosignatures: Which Will Succeed First?
Thirty-five years ago, a group of entrepreneurs and scientists founded the SETI Institute – the first scientific institute dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe. We’re excited to commemorate this anniversary. We invited SETI Institute co-founder Jill Tarter and 2018 Drake Award Recipient Vikki Meadows to discuss the challenges and possible future strategies for the detection of life. Initiated by Jill Tarter in 1990s, Project Phoenix marked the first systematic search for technosignatures. Today, the Allen Telescope Array and Laser SETI are driving our technosignature search. The discovery that exoplanets are common has radically changed our view of the universe. The likelihood that there are habitable worlds elsewhere in the universe seems more plausible than ever before. Astronomers, including Vikki Meadows, are developing new instruments to help search for life on other planets. By analyzing data from exoplanets and identifying biosignatures, we will be able to search for habitable planets and the presence of life. Which approach will discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial life? Will technosignatures or biosignatures confirm our hypothesis that life exists outside our watery, shimmering planet and that, indeed, we are not alone? Molly Bentley, the co-host and producer of the radio program and podcast, Big Picture Science, will be the moderator.
Do Black Holes Affect You?
SETI Institute's Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak explains why black holes don't just suck.
Why is that star going so fast?
Astronauts on the Moon and Mars: Getting Ready with Dr. Pascal Lee
Teachers in the Stratosphere Part 2
Is the Cosmos Massively Entwined?
Senior Scientist Seth Shostak talks about the strange behavior of certain galaxies. Are they somehow connected to one another?
Global Warming Demystified
Jeff Bennett discusses global warming - addressing the science, the consequences, and the solutions with the SETI Institute's Simon Steel. Is human-induced global warming real or a hoax?