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Event Detail (Archived)

Detecting “Life” on Exoplanets

  • This event already took place in March 2024
  • Caspary Auditorium

Event Details

Friday Lecture Series
Anat Shahar, Ph.D., adjunct professor, University of Maryland; staff scientist, associate science deputy, deputy for research advancement, Earth and Planets Lab, Carnegie Institution for Science
Speaker bio(s)

A revolution in astronomy occurred almost 3 decades ago when astronomers discovered the first planet orbiting a Sun-like star outside of our Solar System. Today we know there are thousands of planets orbiting other stars and each of these planetary systems has its own architecture. The next step is to understand the general characteristics of those exoplanets and whether they have the potential to host and sustain life. Using an interdisciplinary lens, Dr. Shahar will explore how we have tried to understand what clues exist within planetary atmospheres that point us to possible life detection. Our goal is to characterize exoplanets, to find out whether our Solar System is unique, or common, and to focus the search for extraterrestrial life to those exoplanets that are most likely to provide the conditions suitable for the development and sustainment of life.

Anat Shahar's work uses high-pressure, high-temperature experiments and stable isotope geochemistry to understand the formation and evolution of rocky planets. Shahar obtained a B.S. and a M.E. in geological engineering from Cornell University in 2002 and 2003, respectively. She earned her Ph.D. in geochemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008. She went on to complete her postdoctoral research at the Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington and in 2009 was appointed Staff Scientist. 

In her research, Shahar investigates how rocky planets formed and evolved through lab experiments that simulate the high temperature and pressure conditions that occur within Earth and other planets. She is the first person to perform stable isotope geochemistry experiments with high-temperature materials. Her lab group determines how these conditions alter the ratios of isotopes in different planetary materials. Shahar utilizes this method to understand planetary processes ranging from the formation of the first solids in the solar system to core formation. Shahar's research also focuses on investigating how volatiles, such as hydrogen, get incorporated and partitioned into planetary bodies through the use of high-pressure experiments, isotope partitioning experiments, and analyses of natural samples. Shahar is the PI of a Sloan-funded grant that is focused on aimed at understanding the abiotic atmospheres of exoplanet and therefore, where we should look for life outside of our Solar System.

FLS lectures will take place in Caspary Auditorium and virtually via Zoom. We recommend virtual participants log out of VPN prior to logging in to Zoom. Please do not share the link or post on social media.

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