Beyond the Moon … to the Farthest Reaches

Saturday, February 16, 2019


The search for planets outside our Solar System, with Jonathan Lunine, Director, Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, and Karin Öberg, Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University, moderated by Massimo Robberto, AURA Observatory Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute

Researching the unknown is one of the deepest aspects of human’s heart. Also, when there have been no immediate advantages, the need for exploring the world, and new worlds, has always been alive, boosted by a secret attraction for reality. Our innate need for novelty represents a continuous prompt to “go beyond,” to be open to meeting the unexpected, the unknown, hoping that what we may discover will tell us something about our presence in the world, our origins, our destiny. Our ancestral need for meeting the mystery, expressed in the art and literature of all the cultures, did not only bring to a great expansion our knowledge of the world, but to a deeper awareness of ourselves as well. For centuries we explored our planet. Then, we began exploring our Solar System and 50 years ago we landed on the Moon. Today we are on the threshold of a new radical expansion of the matter. In recent years the presence of a huge number of planets that revolve around other stars, the so-called “extrasolar planets,” or “exoplanets,” has been revealed. They are very distant worlds and even the closest, at the moment, is completely beyond the reach of our spaceships.

But some of them may have characteristics that can accommodate life. Is it possible? What do we know about these planets today? How are they formed? Under what conditions can earth-like environments be created elsewhere? And if indeed some distant planet housed life, what life could it be? Finally, why is it that we are passionate and worried about the idea that elsewhere, somewhere far away, there can be life? Speakers will address the above questions.

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Featured image: Artist's impression of exoplanet orbiting two stars | Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)