header photo

Exoplanets

Yale Astronomy

Origins @ Yale

Astrobiology is a multidisciplinary field that is recognized by the National Academy of Science and supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation. In 1964, evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson retorted: [astrobiology] "is a 'science' that has yet to demonstrate that its subject matter exists." However, the discovery of hundreds of "exoplanets" (planets orbiting other stars) has energized scientific research on:

  • the formation and evolution of life
  • extremophile biology
  • the formation of planets
  • evolution of atmospheres
  • planet interiors, plate tectonics, the importance of magnetic fields as shields from solar particles
  • acquisition of volatile elements and retention of surface water
  • the search for Earth-like planets.

It is quite possible that in the next decade, astronomers will find the first evidence for life on other planets - it is certainly true that there are current programs, from measuring atmospheric chemistry on other planets to SETI.

We have established a series of interdisciplinary "Origins" lectures at Yale that are intended to draw together the broad range of expertise of the faculty, researchers and students.

Origins Seminar - Fall 2011

All Origins seminars will take place at Kline Geology Lab in Room 123.

  • Tue, Oct 4, 4pm: Steven Benner - "Chemical Considerations when Searching for Life on Mars and Titan"
  • Wed, Oct 26, 2pm: James Kasting - Is the Earth rare?
  • Thu, Nov 3, 4pm: Victoria Meadows - Biosignatures
  • Wed, Nov 9, 2pm: Jonathan Fortney - Exoplanet Structure
  • Mon, Nov 28, 4pm: Seth Shostak - SETI

Series & Talk Announcements
Origins Seminar Series [PDF]
Oct 4 - Steven Benner [PDF]
Oct 26 - James Kasting [PDF]
Nov 3 - Victoria Meadows [PDF]
Nov 9 - Jonathan Fortney [PDF]
Nov 28 - Seth Shostak [PDF]

About the Speakers

Steven Benner, Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, has dedicated his career to studying big questions about the origins of life. Dr. Benner's group initiated synthetic biology as a field, invented dynamic combinatorial chemistry, established paleomolecular biology, and helped found evolutionary bioinformatics.

Jonathan Fortney, Associate Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, studies the interiors and atmospheres of planets in and outside of the solar system. He works to understand planets as a class of astrophysical objects. His current research is on modeling planetary atmospheres, interiors, and thermal evolution.

James Kasting, Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, studies climate evolution and planet habitability. His research interests include atmospheric evolution, planetary atmospheres, and paleoclimates. Recent publications include the book 'How to Find a Habitable Planet.'

Victoria Meadows is an Associate Professor of Astronomy and the Astrobiology Program Director at the University of Washington, as well as PI for the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory. Her research focuses on acquisition and analysis of remote-sensing observations of planetary atmospheres and surfaces. In addition to studying planets within our own solar system, she studies exoplanets, planetary habitability and biosignatures.

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the Search for Extraterestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, is involved with a variety of SETI research, and very engaged in outreach efforts. He hosts the SETI Institute's weekly radio show 'Are We Alone?' and is author/co-author of numerous books and articles on the search for life in the universe.

Articles of Interest

Benner, Steven A., et al. Planetary Organic Chemistry and the Origins of Biomolecules.
Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol 2010;2:a003467. May 26, 2010.

Kasting, James. Chapter 8: The Primitive Earth. Prebiotic Evolution and Astrobiology, edited by Jeffrey Tze-Fei Wong and Atonino Lazcano. ©2008 Landes Bioscience.