Planets, Life, and the Universe Lectures and Events

The Planets, Life, and the Universe lecture series brings high-profile speakers to the JHU/STScI campus to discuss current topics of interest in astrobiology and draws a large and steadily increasing audience. It is supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Department of Biology and the Department of Physics and Astronomy of Johns Hopkins University, and the Ernst Cloos Memorial Fund.

Planets, Life, and the Universe Lecture Series presentations are also webcast live. Webcasts can be viewed at the STScI webcast site during the scheduled presentation, and can be found afterward in the STScI webcast archive.

Organizing committee: Jocelyne DiRuggiero (chair), Maya Gomes, Sarah Horst, Peter McCullough, David Sing, Sabine Stanley, and Kevin Stevenson



Find an Event

Listing Results

3 May 2019
Lecture Tracking Life’s Fingerprints with Molecules and Isotopes
Katherine H. Freeman (Dept. of Geosciences, Penn State University) Biomarkers are organic molecular remnants of past life preserved in ancient soils and sediments. We use both the distributions of biomarkers...
Read More
5 Apr 2019
Lecture Untangling the Role of Environmental and Ecological Influences on the Proterozoic Rise of Complex Life
Phoebe Cohen (Dept. of Geosciences, Williams College) The origins of complex life lie in the Neoproterozoic Era, which began 1,000 million years ago. How, why, and when complex life, including multicellularity,...
Read More
1 Mar 2019
Lecture Lessons from the Deep Earth for the Search of Life in the Solar System and Beyond
Barbara Sherwood Lollar (Department of Earth Sciences, University of Toronto) The recent National Academies Report - the 2018 Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe emphasized,...
Read More
1 Feb 2019
Lecture The Preservation, Distribution, & Detectability of Lipid Biomarkers in the Atacama Desert and Implications for Mars
The Astrobiology Lecture for Friday, February 1, by Mary Beth Wilhelm from NASA Ames has been cancelled as a consequence of the government shutdown. Dr. Wilhelm talk will be rescheduled for fall 2019.
Read More
7 Dec 2018
Lecture Unlocking the Secrets of Nearby Exoplanets with NASA’s TESS Mission
George Ricker (MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research) Successfully launched in April 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover thousands of exoplanets...
Read More
2 Nov 2018
Lecture Photosynthesis: A Planetary Revolution
Woodward Fischer (Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Caltech) Photosynthesis is the most important bioenergetic innovation in the history of the biosphere and it engendered Earth’s...
Read More
4 May 2018
Lecture Planets in a Bottle: Exploring Planetary Atmospheres in a Lab
Sarah Horst (Johns Hopkins University, Dept of Earth and Planetary Sciences) From exoplanets, with their surprising lack of spectral features, to Titan and its characteristic haze layer, numerous planetary...
Read More
6 Apr 2018
Lecture Know Thy Star, Know Thy Planet
Johanna Teske (Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow, Carnegie Observatories) To most thoroughly understand exoplanetary systems, in both individual and statistical senses, requires a thorough characterization...
Read More
2 Mar 2018
Lecture How Microbes Promote Fossilization and Become Fossilized
Tanja Bosak (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) How to recognize signs of life in past sediments from Earth or other planets? Sedimentary record from the first 80% of Earth’s history preserves...
Read More
2 Feb 2018
Lecture The Search for Evidence of Life in the Subsurface Ocean of Enceladus
Alfonso F. Davila (NASA Ames Research Center, Exobiology Branch) Are we alone in the Universe? The search for life beyond Earth is the most compelling scientific question of our time; a positive detection...
Read More
1 Dec 2017
Lecture The Search for Life in Oceans Beyond Earth
Kevin Peter Hand (Deputy Chief Scientist for Solar System Exploration, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology) Where is the best place to find living life beyond Earth? It may...
Read More
3 Nov 2017
Lecture Contemporary Water and Habitability of Mars
Lujendra Ojha (Johns Hopkins University, Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences) Mars is the only other planet besides Earth with multiple lines of geomorphic and spectral evidence for the past existence...
Read More
6 Oct 2017
Lecture Astrobiology and the Anthropocene Epoch
David Grinspoon (Planetary Science Institute) Informed by comparative planetology and a survey of the major episodes in Earth history, this lecture will offer taxonomy of planetary catastrophes meant...
Read More
7 Apr 2017
Lecture The Habitable Zone: Extensions in Time and Space
Dr. Ramses Ramirez​ (Carl Sagan Institute, Dept. of Astronomy, Cornell University) The habitable zone is the circular region around a star in which liquid water could exist on the surface of a rocky planet....
Read More
3 Mar 2017
Lecture Astrobiology and Planetary Protection
Catharine A. Conley (Planetary Protection Officer, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters) The fundamental goals of Astrobiology are focused on understanding the origin, distribution, and future...
Read More
28 Oct 2016
Lecture Exoplanetary Atmospheres
Kevin Heng (University of Bern, Center for Space and Habitability, Exoplanets and Exoclimes Group) The study of exoplanetary atmospheres is one of the frontiers of exoplanet science. It enables us to...
Read More
7 Oct 2016
Lecture Universal Biology, the Genetic Code, and the First 1,000,000 Years of Life On Earth
Nigel Goldenfeld (University of Illinois, Department of Physics) In this talk, I discuss what aspects of life are likely to be universal, focusing primarily on the universal genetic code, but also the...
Read More
1 Apr 2016
Lecture Getting Under Europa's Skin: Radar, Robots and the Search for Life beyond Earth
Britney Schmidt  (Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) Europa is one of the most enticing targets in the search for life beyond Earth. With an icy outer shell...
Read More
4 Mar 2016
Lecture From Geochemistry to Biochemistry: Simulating Prebiotic Chemistry Driven by Geochemical Gradients in Alkaline Hydrothermal Vents
Laurie Barge (Planetary Science Division, Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Planetary water-rock interfaces generate energy in the form of redox, pH, and thermal gradients, and these disequilibria are particularly...
Read More
5 Feb 2016
Lecture Unearthing the Astrochemical Heritage of Solar System Ices
Ilse Cleeves (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) Tracing the chemical history of water during the formation of solar-type stars sheds light on both the origins of water in our own solar system...
Read More
4 Dec 2015
Lecture Is The Universe A Lonely Place?
Shawn Domagal-Goldman (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Sciences and Exploration Directorate) The last 20 years has seen an explosion in the number of known planets beyond our Solar System. Recently,...
Read More
2 Oct 2015
Lecture Searching for, or Creating Ourselves, a Second Example of Life
Steven Benner (Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution) Despite its apparent diversity, all of life on planet Earth is descended from a common ancestor, has essentially identical core molecular biology,...
Read More
1 May 2015
Lecture Life on Super-Earths
William Bains (Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Super-Earths are a class of planet not known in our Solar System but common among exoplanets. Can life...
Read More
3 Apr 2015
Lecture Great Escape from Mars: Planet Lost an Ocean's Worth of Water
Dr. Geronimo Villanueva (Solar System Exploration Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) A primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth's Arctic Ocean, as revealed from isotopic measurements...
Read More
6 Mar 2015
Lecture Searching for Life Around Saturn
Jonathan Lunine (Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, Cornell University) The Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn has discovered two places in the Saturn system where life may occur, and they each...
Read More
5 Dec 2014
Lecture The NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program: the Search for Planets, Habitability, and Life in our Galaxy
Gary H. Blackwood (Exoplanet Exploration Program, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology) The NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) is chartered by the NASA Astrophysics...
Read More
7 Nov 2014
Lecture Observing the Structure, Evolution, and Habitability of Low-Mass Exoplanets
Zachory K. Berta-Thompson (Torres Fellow for Exoplanetary Research, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research) The Milky Way is teeming with planets smaller than Neptune but bigger than...
Read More
3 Oct 2014
Lecture Anoxygenic Growth of Cyanobacteria on Fe(II) and their Associated Biosignatures: Implications for Biotic Contributions to Precambrian Iron Formations (and Mars?)
Niki Parenteau  (NASA Ames Research Center/SETI) The evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis and the resulting oxygenation of the atmosphere and oceans was arguably one of the most important events...
Read More
4 Apr 2014
Lecture Blood Falls: Portal Into An Antarctic Subglacial Microbial World
Jill Mikucki (Dept. of Microbiology, University of Tennessee) Blood Falls is an iron-rich, saline feature at the terminus of Taylor Glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Geophysical and geochemical...
Read More
7 Mar 2014
Lecture Titan: Ingredients for Life
Catherine Neish (Florida Institute of Technology) NASA's Cassini mission has revealed Saturn's larger moon Titan to be a world rich in the "stuff of life." Reactions occurring in its...
Read More
7 Feb 2014
Lecture Compositions and Temperatures of Exoplanet Atmospheres with HST/WFC3
Avi Mandell (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on HST provides the opportunity for spectroscopic characterization of molecular features in transiting exoplanet atmospheres,...
Read More
6 Dec 2013
Lecture What Happens to the Human Body in Space -- And What To Do About It
Mark Shelhamer (Depts of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery/Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Chief Scientist, NASA Human Research Program) Humans evolved and developed, and...
Read More
1 Nov 2013
Lecture Icy Origins: Snowlines During Star and Planet Formation
Karin I. Öberg (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) In the cold and dense stages of star and planet formation, volatile molecules condense out on interstellar grains forming icy mantles....
Read More
4 Oct 2013
Lecture Characterization of Exoplanetary Atmospheres and Interiors
Nikku (Madhu) Madhusudhan (Yale University) Recent advances in exoplanet observations and theoretical methods are leading to unprecedented constraints on the physicochemical properties of exoplanetary...
Read More
3 May 2013
Lecture Habitable Zones and the Frequency of Potential Habitable Planets in Extrasolar Planetary Systems
Ravi Kumar Kopparapu (Department of Geosciences, Penn State University) Identifying terrestrial planets in the habitable zones (HZs) of other stars is one of the primary goals of ongoing exoplanet surveys...
Read More
5 Apr 2013
Lecture Life Underground
Jan Amend (Department of Earth Sciences and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California) On Earth, microorganisms appear to inhabit all physical space that provides the minimum...
Read More
1 Mar 2013
Lecture Follow Your Curiosity: The Search for Habitable Environments on Mars
Daniel Glavin (Planetary Environments Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) In this talk, Glavin will describe the concept of a "habitable environment" and the requirements for life...
Read More
1 Feb 2013
Lecture The Real 1%: Volatiles in Planetary Accretion and the Rapid Development of Habitability
Lindy Elkins-Tanton (Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington) The final stages of the growth of a planet consist of violently energetic impacts, but new observations of...
Read More
2 Nov 2012
Lecture In Quest of the Habitable Zone Planets Around M Dwarfs
Suvrath Mahadevan (Dept. of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Penn State University) A promising path to the discovery and study of individual rocky planets in the Habitable Zone around a star is to search...
Read More
5 Oct 2012
Lecture Ascent of the Proteome in Ancient Life
Aaron Goldman (Princeton University) Proteins play the primary functional role in nearly all of life's physiological processes. They are, themselves, the final products of the translation system,...
Read More
4 May 2012
Lecture The Phylogenomic Record: Reconstructing the Timing and Mechanisms of Early Life Evolution
Greg Fournier (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) The first two billion years of life on Earth left scant, inconclusive material evidence of its existence, despite its undoubtedly complex and profound...
Read More
6 Apr 2012
Lecture The Deep Biosphere in Igneous Oceanic Crust
Katrina Edwards (University of Southern California) Over the past two decades, there has been an increasing awareness within the geological, microbiological, and oceanographic communities of the potentially...
Read More
2 Mar 2012
Lecture Planets in the 'Habitable Zones' of White Dwarfs
Eric Agol (University of Washington) If planets could re-form or migrate inwards to just outside the Roche limit of white dwarfs stars, they would be warmed to Earth-like temperature for billions of years....
Read More
3 Feb 2012
Lecture Direct Imaging and Spectroscopy of Young Giant Planets
Travis Barman (Lowell Observatory) Several young gas giants in wide orbits (> 10 AU) have now been directly imaged. These exciting discoveries provide new insights into the formation and early atmospheric...
Read More
4 Dec 2011
Lecture Origin of Earth's Water
Karen Meech (University of Hawaii) Water is abundant on Earth, covering 75% of Earth's surface, and accounting for up to 0.1% of Earth's mass, yet Earth may in fact be a very dry world. Liquid...
Read More
4 Nov 2011
Lecture Exploring New Worlds: The Search for and Characterization of Planets Beyond the Solar System
Daniel Apai (University of Arizona) Astronomy is entering an exciting new era where ground- and space-based observatories open windows on planetary systems increasingly similar to our own. In this talk...
Read More
7 Oct 2011
Lecture The Search for Life On Mars...A Search for the Origin of Life on Earth?
Andrew Steele (Carnegie Institution for Science) In the next decade Mars will be visited by the most capable Rovers and instruments built to date. How will these missions find evidence of life on Mars...
Read More
6 May 2011
Lecture A Common Origin for Organic Solids in Primitive Solar System Objects: Comets, Interplanetary Dust Particles, and Primitive Chondritic Meteorites
George Cody (Carnegie Institution for Science) Comets and carbonaceous chondrites are the remnants of molecular cloud material from which our Solar System formed. These bodies are considered to be primitive...
Read More
8 Apr 2011
Lecture The Major Transitions In Evolution: A Physiological Perspective
Andrew Knoll (Harvard University) As told by Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (The Major Transitions in Evolution, 1998) life's major transitions involve information and individuality. With equal...
Read More
18 Mar 2011
Lecture Mineral Surfaces, Geochemical Complexities, and the Origins of Life
Robert Hazen (Carnegie Institution for Science) The origin of life occurred in a complex geochemical environment, characterized by significant chemical and thermal gradients, fluid fluxes, cycles, and...
Read More
4 Feb 2011
Lecture The Virtual Planetary Laboratory: Modeling Signs of Habitability and Life on Extrasolar Planets
Vikki Meadows (University of Washington) In the coming decades, the search for life outside our Solar System will be undertaken using astronomical observations of extrasolar terrestrial planets. To better...
Read More
10 Dec 2010
Lecture How to Find a Habitable Planet
James Kasting (Penn State University) Over 400 planets have been found around nearby stars, but none of them is thought to be at all like Earth. The goal now is to identify rocky planets within the habitable...
Read More
12 Nov 2010
Lecture Did Earth Lose Its Balance Before The First Animals Evolved?
Adam Maloof (Princeton University) A low-latitude distribution of continents may be a prerequisite for the global glaciations that appear to have affected Earth at least twice during the emergence of...
Read More
8 Oct 2010
Lecture Follow the Elements: An Early Whiff of Oxygen
Ariel Anbar (Arizona State University) The oxygenation of the Earth's surface, which occurred ca. 2.3 billion years ago, is the earliest unambiguous imprint of biology on a planetary scale. Therefore,...
Read More
3 Sep 2010
Lecture Will Alien Life Resemble Us (and How Could We Possibly Know)? Astrobiology, Evolution and the Amino Acids
Stephen Freeland (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii) A fundamental challenge for astrobiology is to establish the relative contributions of chance versus predictability in the origin and evolution...
Read More
18 Jun 2010
Lecture Astrobiological Factors in Exoplanet Exploration Strategies
Wes Traub (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech) What is the best strategy for finding signs of life beyond the Solar System? Until recent years this was a purely philosophical question, but today we have...
Read More
7 May 2010
Lecture Exploring a Nearby Habitable World...Orbiting an M-dwarf Star
L. Drake Deming (NASA Goddard Center for Astrobiology) The advent of cryogenic space-borne infrared observatories such as the Spitzer Space Telescope has lead to a revolution in the study of extrasolar...
Read More
9 Apr 2010
Lecture Where Next in the Search for Life on Mars?
Chris McKay (NASA Ames Research Center) For the past decade missions to Mars have "followed the water". In this talk I will argue that future missions should begin directly searching for signs...
Read More
5 Mar 2010
Lecture Formation of Icy Planetesimals in the Primitive Nebula: Implications for the Composition of Gas Giant Planets, Satellites, and Comets
Olivier Mousis (Observatoire de Besançon, France) Formation scenarios of the solar nebula invoke two main reservoirs of water ice that may have taken part concurrently into the production of solids....
Read More
5 Feb 2010
Lecture Chemoautotrophically-Based Microbial Communities in an Extreme Subsurface Environment
Jill Banfield (University of California, Berkeley) Iron and sulfur redox chemistry support chemoautotrophic subsurface microbial communities on Earth, and could potentially sustain a biosphere on Mars....
Read More
8 Jan 2010
Lecture Habitability of the Hadean Earth
Stephen Mojzsis (University of Colorado) The terrestrial geologic record from actual rocks extends back to about 4.02 billion years ago (4.02 Ga). Before that time, what we know of the environment of...
Read More
4 Dec 2009
Lecture Cometary Amino Acids from the STARDUST Mission
Jamie Elsila Cook (GSFC/Goddard Center for Astrobiology) NASA's Stardust spacecraft returned samples from comet 81P/Wild 2 to Earth in January 2006. Examinations of the organic compounds in cometary...
Read More
6 Nov 2009
Lecture Impacting the Origin of Life: the Case for Phosphorus
Matthew Pasek (University of South Florida) Phosphorus is a key element in biological systems, acting in cell replication as RNA and DNA, in cell structure as phospholipids, and in metabolism as ATP....
Read More

For general questions and information, or to join our mailing list, please contact us: