May 11, 2009 Are We Alone? Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life Lecture at the Library of Congress, June 2

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Science, Technology & Business Division (202) 707-5664; Lora Bleacher, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (301) 286-2009

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, will present “Astrobiology: Are We Alone?” at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 2, in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; tickets are not required.

The illustrated lecture is one of a series of lectures presented through a partnership between the Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

In his talk, Glavin will describe 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 will also give an overview of the Mars Exploration Program and future plans for sending instrumentation to Mars to explore habitable environments.

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.

Glavin continues to study the organic chemistry of meteorite samples collected around the world. In 2002 he spent two months in Antarctica searching for meteorites on the surface of the ice as part of the National Science Foundation- and NASA-funded Antarctic Search for Meteorites program.


PR 09-101
ISSN 0731-3527