Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund, "Space Exploration of our Solar System: Organics for life and Habitability"


Thursday, March 2, 2017, 4:00pm to 6:30pm


Geological Museum, Haller Hall, 24 Oxford Street



The search for organic material and biosignatures in our solar system is a highly complex endeavor. For life to develop, chemical raw materials are necessary, hence space missions that investigate the composition of comets and asteroids and in particular their organic content provide major opportunities to determine the prebiotic reservoirs available to the early Earth and Mars. The comet rendezvous mission Rosetta was the first spacecraft to land on a comet and thus sampling material from a cometary nucleus. Rosetta monitored the evolution of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at close range on its passage to the Sun and observed numerous volatiles and complex organic compound on the cometary surface and in the coma. Furthermore, mission data enhanced our fundamental understanding of cometary dust, and the processes that ultimately gave rise to planetary systems. A fleet of robotic space missions currently targets planets, moons and small bodies to reveal clues about the origin of our solar system, habitability and life beyond Earth. Science activities in support of Mars exploration are performed worldwide in the laboratory, in the field and through simulation studies. Knowledge on the evolution of organic and biological material in space environment such as their photochemistry and preservation potential is crucial to advance life detection strategies and instrument development. This lecture will highlight results of recent and current space missions and discuss the science and technology preparation necessary for robotic and human exploration efforts in Earth orbit, on the Moon, Mars and beyond.


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