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"NASA's Search for Life," a Free Public Lecture Scheduled for 14 October

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A free public lecture titled "NASA's Search for Life" will be given at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, 14 October in 101 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park Campus by Charles Beichman, the NASA Origins Scientist. He will describe humanity's attempts to answer the questions: "Where do we come from?" and "Are we alone?" Following the lecture, members of the audience will have an opportunity to meet with the speaker and with faculty members from the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Beichman's talk provides an overview of the 2000-2001 Friedman public lecture series, which focuses this year on "Origins in Astronomy." The series will review the origins of the universe and of galaxies, the production in stars of chemicals that form the building blocks of life, and the prospects for formation of life-bearing planets throughout the universe. It will culminate next summer with a lecture by Frank Drake, the founder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute.

As well as serving as the Origins Scientist for NASA, Beichman is the Chief Scientist of NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder Mission (TPF) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Beichman says he feels that NASA's Origins Program offers the prospect of revolutionizing humanity's perception of its place in the universe by identifying life-bearing planets orbiting other stars. The TPF is expected to produce the first "family portraits" of planetary systems beyond our own. As well as providing a general overview of the development of life from the Big Bang on, Beichman will treat the audience to an overview of the TPF mission. He will describe how the TPF can find planets within fifty light years that are Earth-like in essential respects: size, distance from the parent star, warmth, wetness, and amount of atmospheric oxygen.

Beichman's talk is part of a series of lectures hosted by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and largely funded by the Ronald M. and Susan J. Friedman Outreach Fund in Astronomy. Mr. Friedman is a member of the Department's Board of Visitors.

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CONTACT: Jane Charlton, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics, 863-6040 or 865-0418

 

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