A long-anticipated interdisciplinary field of science is now exploding on the scene: Astrobiology. Are habitable planets common in the universe? What properties of a planet are necessary for chemical reactions to create replicating molecules such as DNA, to spawn biology and support long-term evolution?
The NASA Kepler Mission has discovered hundreds of Earth-size planets in orbits near the habitable zones of their host stars. Do these new worlds have the ingredients for biochemistry and long-term evolution? Our current ideas about the formation of planetary systems imply that rocky planets, like Earth, are common and that water will be delivered to them by comets and asteroids around their stars. But will most Earth-size planets receive too little water producing “desert worlds”, or too much, producing water worlds with no continents? Are these theories of planetary formation supported by Kepler’s recent observations? What conditions are needed for biology to spawn intelligent, technological life?
This conference will give a glimpse into how astronomers are working with geologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, atmospheric chemists, and biologists to assess the prospects for life on other worlds.