Equipping Planets for Life


Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 4:00pm


Geo Museum, 24 Oxford Street, Haller Hall, Rm. 102, Cambridge, MA

Ralph Pudritz (McMaster University)

The Kepler observatory is driving a major scientific revolution in our knowledge of exoplanetary systems. Among the key results is the discovery that Earth-like planets are reasonably common around a variety of stars. Do such worlds support life as we know it? How are the pre-biotic conditions that may lead to life established on planets? To explore this, I will first review some of the basic physical astrophysical and geophysical processes that build planets and provide them with water and biomolecules such as amino acids. I will then focus on our recent work based on an analysis of experimental and observational data that shows that general thermodynamic constrains affect the relative frequency of amino acids in these pre-biotic states. This may in turn, constrain early DNA/protein based genetic codes. I will conclude by examining the specific role that meteorites may have played in delivering water and biomolecules to the Earth. Amino acids are produced in meteorite parent bodies (planetesimals that are 100 km in size) and such models can be constrained by the meteoritic data.

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