NSN Webinar: Exploring Exoplanet Biosignatures, Potential "False Positives" for Life, and the Case of Proxima Centauri b

NSN Webinar: Exploring Exoplanet Biosignatures, Potential "False Positives" for Life, and the Case of Proxima Centauri b

  • Nighttime Event
  • Inside Venue
  • Target Audience
  • Teen, Adult
NSN members joined a live webinar with Dr. Giada Arney and Dr. Eddie Schwieterman on November 16, 2016 to learn more about how astronomers and astrobiologists are investigating the atmospheres of exoplanets for signs of life.

In the coming years and decades, we will finally gain the ability to characterize potentially habitable planets outside of the solar system. How would we recognize a habitable or inhabited planet, and what type of instrumentation would this require? Could we be fooled by potential “biosignature impostors”, abiotic processes which could mimic the signatures of life, such as atmospheric oxygen? In this presentation, we will provide an overview of the nascent field of exoplanet biosignature science, primarily describing work done by the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory.  We will describe modeling “Earth as an Exoplanet”, how to avoid potential “false positives” for life, and how studying the Earth through time may help us identify other habitable worlds.  The modern (current) Earth is often held up as the exemplar for other inhabited worlds in the Universe. However, early earth is the most alien world for which we have geochemical evidence for its environmental state. This geological evidence suggests Earth’s atmosphere and surface has evolved substantially through time, transitioning from an oxygen-poor, methane-rich planet to an oxygen-rich, methane-poor one today. During part of this early history, the habitable Earth may have been veiled in a hydrocarbon haze, similar to the one that enshrouds Saturn’s moon Titan today. The history of our world can provide clues for how the fingerprints of habitability and signatures of life may manifest themselves on habitable worlds beyond the solar system, including perhaps the newly discovered Proxima Centauri b. We will conclude our talk by describing Virtual Planetary Laboratory simulations of the possible atmospheric states and signatures of the newly discovered Proxima Centauri b.

About Eddie Schwieterman

Eddie Schwieterman is a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow joining the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Alternative Earths team at the University of California, Riverside.  Eddie recently received his PhD from the University of Washington in Seattle under the advisement of Victoria Meadows, who leads the NAI Virtual Planetary Laboratory Team. Eddie’s research interests include modeling the spectral appearance, climate, and photochemistry of terrestrial exoplanets, especially as it applies to evaluating potential astronomical biosignatures and habitability markers. Eddie is also highly interested in scientific communication and public outreach. 

About Giada Arney

Giada Arney is a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a member of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory. She recently received her PhD from the University of Washington where she worked on photochemical, climate, and spectral simulations of worlds enshrouded by global haze decks with advisor Victoria Meadows. She has also been planetarium coordinator for the University of Washington. At Goddard, she will be involved with modeling efforts of solar system worlds and exoplanets with applications to a potential large aperture space-based telescope called the Large UV-Optical-Near Infrared Survey Telescopes (LUVOIR) that may launch in the coming decades and enable direct observations of exoplanet atmospheres.

Last Update: November 18, 2016

Video

Webinar Recording

Video recording of our webinar on YouTube.

Activity Key

Daytime Event
Daytime Event
Nighttime Event
Nighttime Event
Inside Venue
Inside Venue
Outside Venue
Outside Venue
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Target Audience