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The 2018 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science: Is There Life on Other Planets?

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08 January 2018


"Is There Life on Other Planets" is the question we will explore during the 2018 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science -- a free public minicourse on Saturday mornings beginning January 20.

Join us for this series of six free lectures on consecutive Saturday mornings from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park Campus.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is an annual free public minicourse organized by the Penn State Eberly College of Science as an enjoyable and enlightening learning opportunity for residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. The speakers are researchers who are expanding the frontiers of scientific knowledge in their fields.

John JonhsonHow To Look for a Liveable Planet

January 20, 11 a.m., 100 Thomas Building (map)

John Johnson, Professor of Astronomy and Director of Graduate Studies - Harvard University

We are living in a new era when many new techniques and tools are being invented and used to hunt for Earth-like planets with the just-right conditions for life. Hear one of the planet hunters describe how he found the smallest exoplanet yet detected. Learn how he now is leading the research team of a new ground-based robotic observatory designed exclusively for discovering and observing Earth-like planets in habitable zones around Sun-like stars.


Suvrath Mahadevan.New Tools for Finding the Closest Earth-Like Planets

January 27, 11 a.m., 100 Thomas Building (map)

Suvrath Mahadevan, Associate Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics - Penn State

The hunt is on at Penn State to find truly Earth-like planets orbiting the closest stars to the Sun -- planets that are capable of supporting life, that are fairly small, and that have some solid and liquid surfaces where life can evolve. Learn about the exciting new research efforts led by Penn State scientists, including the Habitable Zone Planet Finder now being installed at Penn State's Hobby-Eberly Telescope.


Sarah BallardChoose Your Own Adventure: Planet Edition

February 3, 11 a.m., 100 Thomas Building (map)

Sarah Ballard, Torres Fellow in Exoplanetary Science - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Solar systems in the Milky Way typically revolve around stars that are much smaller than our Sun. These stars provide conditions for their planets that are very different from those that nourished the evolution of life here on Earth. Learn about the key patterns emerging from studies of thousands of exoplanetary systems, and how we can leverage this knowledge to have the best chance of detecting life on planets that are far from our own solar system.


Rebekah DawsonThe Birth of Habitable Planets

February 10, 11 a.m., 100 Thomas Building (map)

Rebekah Dawson, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics - Penn State

When a solar system forms, its early evolution and the materials it contains determine whether or not its planets could support life. Learn about recent theories and computer simulations of the kinds of planetary systems that are most likely to harbor planets like Earth. Hear how the recent deluge and diversity of exoplanet discoveries have updated the leading theories of how habitable planets are born.


JimKastingWhat Makes a Planet Habitable?

February 17, 11 a.m., 100 Thomas Building (map)

James Kasting, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences - Penn State

Earth-like life needs a planet with at least a solid or liquid surface and adequate supplies of carbon and water. Other factors might be important too: enough energy for life to begin, volcanism and plate tectonics to regulate climate, sufficient gravity and perhaps a magnetic field to hold onto an atmosphere. Learn how scientists are trying to discover how often these factors combine to create habitable environments beyond Earth.


LisaKalteneggerHow to Hunt for Signs of Alien Life

February 24, 11 a.m., 100 Thomas Building (map)

Lisa Kaltenegger, Associate Professor and Director of the Carl Sagan Institute - Cornell University

Our most advanced telescopes now have enough sensitivity to search for signs of life by exploring the physical structure of planets and moons and the chemical composition of their atmospheres – both inside and outside our own solar system. Hear how scientists now are studying features of rocky planets in the habitable zone around stars to learn if our concept of habitability is correct and how we can identify the first habitable new worlds in our galaxy.

  • Read a press release about Lisa Kaltenegger's lecture
  • View a recording of Lisa Kaltenegger's lecture

    Thomas Building is located at the corner of Pollock and Shortledge roads. Parking is available in the HUB Parking Deck on Shortledge Road and in the Eisenhower Parking Deck on Eisenhower Road.

    Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please call 814-863-4682 or e-mail sci-comm@psu.edu in advance of your participation or visit.


    Use the links to the left to access more information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures.

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