TITLE: Astrobiology: Life in Space
SPEAKER: Daniel P. Glavin
EVENT DATE: 06/02/2009
FORMAT: Video + Captions
RUNNING TIME: 53 minutes
TRANSCRIPT: View Transcript (link will open in a new window)
Daniel P. Glavin, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, says the possibility of extraterrestrial life in our solar system is not limited to Mars; other "habitable" worlds might exist including the icy Moons of Jupiter and Saturn, known as Europa and Enceladus. The challenge for scientists and engineers in the next couple of decades, he says, will be to design miniaturized instruments and technologies capable of detecting the signatures of life in our own solar system and beyond.
Glavin, who is currently involved in the analysis of organic compounds in meteorites and in the search for extraterrestrial life, presented "Astrobiology: Are We Alone?"
In his talk, Glavin described the concept of a "habitable environment" and the conditions on Earth that led to the origin of life. Understanding the basic requirements for life and the prebiotic chemistry that led to the emergence of life on Earth will help guide the search for life beyond Earth. He also gave an overview of the Mars Exploration Program and future plans for sending instrumentation to Mars to explore habitable environments.
Speaker Biography: Daniel P. Glavin is helping to develop and test the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument that will be flown to Mars in 2011 aboard the Mars Science Laboratory rover mission. SAM, a microwave oven-sized mass spectrometer, will analyze the Martian dirt to look for water, organic compounds, and other biologically important elements required by life as we know it. Glavin first became involved in astrobiology research in 1996, when a meteorite from Mars found in Antarctica, called Allan Hills 84001, revealed possible remnants of ancient Martian life forms. Although Glavin's research suggested that some of the chemical evidence was compromised by terrestrial contamination in Antarctica, the meteorite discovery energized the astrobiology community, and the red planet continues to be a primary target for exploration and the search for life beyond Earth. Glavin received NASA Goddard's Research and Development "Innovator of the Year Award" in 2007, because he was principal investigator of the NASA Astrobiology, Science and Technology Instrument Development Study that built a miniaturized pyrolysis mass-spectrometer instrument. This instrument is designed to be operated robotically, or by humans, to rapidly detect water, complex organics and gases released from rocks on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets and other planetary objects of astrobiological interest.