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UNH Astronomy Lecture Dec. 5 Details Search for Life in Earth's Solar System

By David Sims, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
December 2, 2009

An image taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft of Jupiter’s sixth moon, Europa.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, the physics department will present “Searching for Life in Our Solar System” – the fourth and final in a series of weekend lectures given by faculty, staff, and students to promote interest in the field of astronomy and celebrate 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA).

Instructor John S. Gianforte will provide details about what scientists now think simple, microbial life needs to get started, to thrive, and evolve.

According to Gianforte, it is sobering to think that as far out into the cosmos as astronomers can see with the largest, ground-based telescopes or sophisticated, space-based instruments – more than 12 billion light years distant – humankind knows of only one single place where life exists – Earth.

During the last 40 years, scientists have discovered that life is much tougher, much more robust than was considered only a few years ago, and it is known that life on Earth has three essential requirements: water, an energy source, and organic compounds.

Planetary astronomers have found that Earth is not the only place in our solar system where those three essential elements can be found – there are several, including Mars, Europa, Callisto, Ganymede, Enceladus, and Titan. The lecture will detail what humankind has learned about these worlds and the possibilities for life so close to home.

The IYA talks are held on Saturdays from 3 to 4 p.m. in DeMeritt Hall, room 112. The lectures are free and open to the public and each date will correspond with free public viewings at the UNH Observatory later that evening, weather permitting. With this lecture the series draws to a close.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU)) declared 2009 to be the IYA in recognition of Galileo's observation of the heavens 400 years ago, which ushered in the age of modern observational astronomy. For more information on the UNH lecture series visit http://physics.unh.edu/observatory/IYA_lectures.html and for more on the IYA visit http://astronomy2009.nasa.gov.

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