Dr. Seager explains how she and other astronomers are looking for extraterrestrial life. We discuss the Drake and Seager equations. We also talk about how astronomers might be able to detect life by measuring chemicals in distant planet atmospheres.
Using a model, MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager demonstrates Starshade, under development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Deployed in space, the device, more than 100 feet in diameter, would block the light from a star. A space telescope would capture an image of a planet when it’s between Starshade’s petals, seeking evidence that life may exist on the planet.
(PHOTOGRAPH BY SPENCER LOWELL / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)
Dr. Armando Azua-Bustos talks about how he discovered the driest place on Earth— a region in the Atacama Desert not far from where he grew up. He explains how he collects and studies microbial life that live in these extremely dry regions.
Dr Cable returns to the show to talk about why scientists often assume that water is needed to sustain life. She explains why most life, like us, likely is carbon-based, and talks about where she’d look for lifeforms beyond our planet.
Dr Morgan Cable comes back on the podcast to tell us about how she and a team of scientists searched a fresh lava field in Iceland to look for signs of life. They pretended to see the landscape like a rover would, so that the lessons they learned in Iceland could be applied to the search for life on Mars. Listen in for their surprising results, and to hear a bonus story about an adventurous search for a meteorite in Nevada.
Professor Bethany Ehlmann discusses how to pick a landing site for NASA's next Mars rover, Mars 2020. Over a particularly good beer, we also cover looking for life on Mars, and she answers the thorny question: why look for life on Mars, which has little liquid water, when Europa's got a giant ocean?