The Search for Life in the Universe

On Thursday, 18 November, at 7:30pm GMT, join us on the search for life in the Universe. The question of whether there is other life in the Universe is one of the most tantalising we can ask. For centuries we have looked to the stars and wondered about the possibilities of life on other worlds. But where that has mostly been speculation in the past, now science is being brought to bear on the problem. This special Worldwide AstroFest event welcomes three eminent speakers who have all looked at the possibility of life elsewhere. It promises to be truly fascinating, mind-expanding evening. Our hosts, Stuart Clark and Lucie Green, will be joined by speakers Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, Professor Michael Garrett and Dr Natalie Starkey. You will be able to put your questions to the speakers.

About the talks

Phosphine in Venus’ Clouds

The discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus might just possibly be an indicator that there is some form of life in the clouds of the hottest planet in our Solar System. In this talk, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer Emily Drabek-Maunder – co-author of the original paper about this discovery – discusses the discovery of phosphine gas in Venus’ atmosphere and what is happening now.

Volcanoes and Life in the Solar System

Volcanoes in the Solar System, whether made of fire or ice, allow scientists to picture the inner workings of the planet or moon on which they are found. They dredge up materials from the otherwise inaccessible depths to deliver to the surface. But a volcanically active world tells scientists that there is heat within, even in the seemingly frozen worlds of the outer Solar System. With heat there is a potential for liquid water, which opens the very real possibility for life in some of the most far-flung of frozen lands that share our Sun.

New Developments in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a research field that is currently under-going a transformation in capability, partly due to the Breakthrough Listen Initiative launched by Mr. Yuri Milner in 2015. Radio and optical SETI surveys are now being undertaken that represent an improvement of a factor of over a thousand compared to previous efforts. Astronomers are also searching for so-called “techno-signatures” across the electromagnetic spectrum e.g. evidence for waste heat in the infrared. Large scale surveys of the sky, that catalogue and monitor over time the properties of billions of cosmic objects are also on the horizon. I will discuss these exciting new developments and the best candidates uncovered so far.

About the speakers

Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder is an astrophysicist and currently the Senior Manager of Public Astronomy at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. For ten years, she studied the formation of solar systems using radio telescopes located around the world. She obtained her PhD in Physics from the University of Exeter studying the formation of stars and BSc in Physics from Loyola University New Orleans. Emily has previously worked as an observational astrophysicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Imperial College London and Cardiff University.

Michael Garrett is the Sir Bernard Lovell Chair of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, and Director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics. He was previously General Director of ASTRON, and responsible for the final design, construction and operational phase of the €150M LOFAR telescope. He also helped define the design of the Square Kilometre Array telescope. Garrett’s scientific interests are broad, but he is particularly interested in searching for anomalies in large astronomical data sets, looking for the signature of energy-intensive extraterrestrial civilisations. He was recently elected as chair of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) SETI Permanent Committee.

Natalie Starkey is a geologist and cosmochemist. Over the course of her doctorate at Edinburgh University, studying the geochemistry of Arctic volcanoes, Natalie travelled to the volcanic fields of Iceland, the ancient volcanoes of northern Scotland and spent three months as a volcanologist on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. Natalie received a British Science Association Media Fellowship in 2013 and regularly appears on television and radio internationally, as well as being a science host with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popular StarTalk Radio. Her writing includes numerous articles for The Guardian, New Scientist, All About Space and BBC Focus. She is currently a Public Engagement Officer for Physics at The Open University.

Your virtual ticket provides live access to the presentation and gives you the opportunity to pose questions to the speakers. A replay will also be available. The presentation will be delivered by Zoom Webinar.