Earth & Planetary Science Dept.
Part 1 of the abridged version of an interview we did with Dr. Naomi Levin from the Earth & Planetary Science Department is now available on the 365 Days of Astronomy website. This was a pretty long interview, so the site asked us to break it up into two parts. The second part comes out on May 3rd. In the meantime, here is the full interview With Dr. Levin.
Registration for spring 2011 classes just opened up for grad students today. Below is a list of interesting classes related to astrobiology in the Earth & Planetary Science Department:
AS.270.114 “Guided Tour: The Planets” TTh 1:30pm-2:45pm
I believe this class is an intro science course that’s required for undergrads. It’s taught by Bruce Marsh and Darrell Strobel. It’s also completely full, but you might be able to audit it.
AS.270.407 “Seminar in Planetary Sciences” W 12pm-1:20pm
The “Seminar in Planetary Sciences” was offered last spring, and it was an incredible hit. Researchers from APL came in once a week to give a presentation on their current research and the latest discoveries. In fact, not more than a week after it was announced water was discovered on the moon did we learn that OH counts as water.
AS.270.647 “Earth’s Interior” TBD
The “Earth’s Interior” course is a seminar as well. The semester topic changes each time the class is offered. I took it last spring, and the class’s focus was on planetary formation. No tests, but there’s a lot of reading, and every few weeks you have to present on a paper. It’s an excellent seminar taught by the always excellent Peter Olson. If he goes with planetary formation again (if you sign up for the class, definitely email him suggestions about what the seminar should focus on), it’ll beat the pants off anything the physics & astronomy department can offer up.
After these three courses, we’re also offering two climate change courses that may be interesting to some:
AS.270.360 “Climate Change: Science & Policy” MW 1:30pm-2:45pm
AS.270.377 “Climates of the Past” TTh 1:30pm-2:45pm
I haven’t taken either, so I can’t speak to the course content.
UPDATE: One of the members of the astrobiology club email list sent this in.
Biology is also offering a recapitulation of the Planets Life and Universe class. The fall class is a pre-req, but I’m guessing that’s just a suggestiong.
AS.020.716 (01) – Planets, Life, and the Universe Seminar
Based on the course Planets, Life and the Universe in the Fall, this seminar series is for students who would like to read and discuss interesting current papers in the field, including the latest developments that may lead to interesting ideas on interdisciplinary research. Pre-requisites: It is preferable but not required that students will have taken the Fall 2010 course Planets, Life and the Universe (171.333/699 or AS.020.334/616 ). Reading material Papers will be assigned to read each week.
We had a great meeting today with another large turnout. Judit Szulágyi gave a presentation about habitability zones. We discussed a recent article on arxiv.org about detecting life with microbial fuel cells. Then we capped off the hour with a lengthy review of the recent papers that lend evidence to Titan having methane-based life.
Here is the original press release, “What is Consuming Hydrogen and Acetylene on Titan?” and Chris McKay’s response from earlier this week to the furor it kicked up. And here are the four papers referenced in the discussion today:
- The abundances of constituents of Titan’s atmosphere from the GCMS instrument on the Huygens probe
- Possibilities for methanogenic life in liquid methane on the surface of Titan
- Molecular hydrogen in Titan’s atmosphere: Implications of the measured tropospheric and thermospheric mole fractions
- Detection and Mapping of Hydrocarbon Deposits on Titan
A recent paper by Johns Hopkins own Darrell Strobel has been making the rounds. His paper, “Molecular hydrogen in Titan’s atmosphere: Implications of the measured tropospheric and thermospheric mole fractions,” in conjunction with results from a VIMS study soon to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, has renewed interest in a 2005 paper by Chris McKay and Heather Smith about methane-based life. From a JPL press release:
One key finding comes from a paper online now in the journal Icarus that shows hydrogen molecules flowing down through Titan’s atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Another paper online now in the Journal of Geophysical Research maps hydrocarbons on the Titan surface and finds a lack of acetylene.
This lack of acetylene is important because that chemical would likely be the best energy source for a methane-based life on Titan, said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., who proposed a set of conditions necessary for this kind of methane-based life on Titan in 2005. One interpretation of the acetylene data is that the hydrocarbon is being consumed as food. But McKay said the flow of hydrogen is even more critical because all of their proposed mechanisms involved the consumption of hydrogen.
“We suggested hydrogen consumption because it’s the obvious gas for life to consume on Titan, similar to the way we consume oxygen on Earth,” McKay said. “If these signs do turn out to be a sign of life, it would be doubly exciting because it would represent a second form of life independent from water-based life on Earth.”
Cheers to Johns Hopkins for being on the cutting edge of astrobiology research!
Catherine Neish from the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory is presenting at this week’s planetary science seminar in the Earth & Planetary Science department. It’ll be the last seminar of the semester, so don’t miss it! The presentation is titled “Titan: An Earth Analogue in the Outer Solar System,” and the paper sent out for prereading is “Titan’s Primordial Soup: Formation of Amino Acids via Low-Temperature Hydrolysis of Tholins” (Neish et al., 2010). Check the calendar for a copy of the paper. The presentation starts at 12pm on Wednesday in Olin Hall 304.