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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics


Upcoming Seminar:

Wednesday, 4/17, 12:00-1:00.  Benson Earth Sciences 380

Astrobiology and the Limits of Knowledge: Looking for “Life as We Don’t Know It”

Presented by Dr. Sarah Stewart Johnson (Georgetown University) 

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Abstract: Time and again, the indescribable foreignness of other worlds in our solar system has far surpassed our expectations and left us reconsidering what we thought we knew of our universe.  And yet, as we search for life, our detection methodologies and biological expectations often presume that the life we are seeking is similar to the life we know from Earth:  we rely primarily on the identification of well-established and widely accepted features associated with terran life and signatures of biologic processes, such as particular classes of molecules and patterns within the molecular weights of fatty acids or other lipids. So, how might we contend with the truly alien?  How might we break free from our ideas about “life as we know it,” and search instead for “life as we don’t know it?”  This talk will address new approaches to life detection under development as part of the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures project, including probabilistic frameworks for data analysis, as well as the relevance of these techniques for Mars, the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and one day, perhaps even exoplanets.

Image credit: NASA