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Mars Exploration and the Search for Life in the Universe

  • Friday, September 18, 2020
  • 7:30 PM–8:30 PM

Learn about recent discoveries and planned exploration on Mars—and consider the questions about life and habitability on Mars that these efforts are helping to answer.

The inquisitive nature with which God has endowed humans has led us to search for life elsewhere in the universe. We live in a vast expanse, and it seems uncanny that Earth should be the only place to harbor life. The Drake equation (SETI meeting, 1961) attempts to estimate the number of possible civilizations that could communicate with us, but the equation’s terms are highly uncertain. One such term addresses the likelihood of finding life on any given planet that is in a star's habitable zone. It turns out that our neighboring planet, Mars, was quite habitable in the first several billion years of solar-system history, with freshwater lakes and rivers, and probably an ocean. The Curiosity rover has been studying organic materials on Mars since their discovery in Gale crater in 2013. That work will be continued by the Perseverance rover, being sent to Mars this year. “Percy” is to collect and cache samples for a future mission to return to Earth, where they can be studied more intensively, to understand if any of these organic materials are biological in origin. Roger C Wiens, project leader for the ChemCam and SuperCam laser instruments on these two rovers, will describe our Mars discoveries so far and plans for upcoming exploration, all intended to address the questions of habitability and life on Mars, and by extension, of life in the universe.

Location: This event will take place online over Zoom (click here to join the presentation on Zoom).

Presenter: Roger C Wiens, Project leader for the ChemCam instrument on Mars Curiosity rover, and SuperCam on the Perseverance rover (to land on Mars in 2021)

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