“The Virtual Planetary Laboratory: Modeling Signs of Habitability and Life on Extrasolar Planets”

This Friday, February 4, 2011, at 12:30pm in John Bahcall Auditorium at the STScI, Dr. Vikki Meadows from University of Washington will give the next Planets, Life, and the Universe Astrobiology Lecture. The title of her talk will be “The Virtual Planetary Laboratory: Modeling Signs of Habitability and Life on Extrasolar Planets.” Here are the details:

In the coming decades, the search for life outside our Solar System will be undertaken using astronomical observations of extrasolar terrestrial planets. To better inform our search, the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory team uses a suite of computer models to explore the interaction between a terrestrial planet and its parent star. The resulting models allow us to simulate extrasolar terrestrial planetary environments and spectra, and to define and quantify likely signs of planetary habitability and life. This talk will discuss the VPL models and results to date, including the detectability of planetary habitability and potential signs of life from alternative biospheres.

Our February Meeting Is This Week!

A reminder to everyone, we have a meeting this week! It’s going to be Wednesday, February 2nd at 5pm in Mudd 23. We’ll have pizza and drinks, talk about some of the public outreach projects we’re working on this semester, and there’ll even be a few presentations. I’ll give a run down on the latest announcement from Kepler. Dan will give us a first look at the issue of prebiotic chemistry of lipids. There’s also a third talk scheduled that we’re still working to get filled. So come on out for our February meeting. As they say in the corduroy world, all whales welcome!

Post-meeting update: here are slides we used in the talks:



Good teaching and learning materials

I’m planning an astrobiology booth for the Physics Fair at Johns Hopkins in April, so I’m exploring the outreach-and-education section of the NASA Astrobiology website to find materials. Here are some fantastic things I’ve found.

This lets you see how long ago two evolutionary lines diverged: http://www.timetree.org/

My first test was human vs. wombat (~150 million years ago): http://www.timetree.org/time_query.php?taxon_a=29139&taxon_b=9606

But also interesting is human vs. brewer’s/baker’s/biologist’s yeast (~1300 million years ago!—1.3 billion): http://www.timetree.org/time_query.php?taxon_a=4932&taxon_b=9606

This is an unbelievable historical perspective on our discovery of other planetary systems: http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/timeline/timeline.html

I wish we could bring back some of these guys, like Giordano Bruno, and say “Look, you were right, we found other solar systems!” Really makes me cry. The exoplanet counter does not change from zero until 1992.

Also the Extreme Planet Makeover activity at that PlanetQuest website a good way to get a feel for how physical parameters (star type, distance from star, size of planet) change the nature of the planet (balance of solid, liquid, gas, etc.).

Adventure through a microbial community—goofy but informative: http://microbes.arc.nasa.gov/movie/large-qt.html

Scheduling our next meeting

It’s that time again to schedule our next meeting.  We’re shooting for the first week of classes.  There’s a doodle poll set up, so mark your preferred day and time.  We’re closing the poll on Friday, January 21st at 5pm, so mark your preferences soon.

When we have the meeting may dictate who is available to give presentations during the meeting, so right now we can’t make any promises about topics.  But we will soon!