The Search for Life Beyond the Solar System: Exoplanets, Biosignature & Instruments

Dates: March 16 – 21, 2014
Location: Tucson, Arizona

What: “The Search for Life Beyond the Solar System. Exoplanets, Biosignature & Instruments,” a conference that brings together experts to discuss how to find life in the universe. Jill Tarter, inspiration for the movie Contact, will give public talk.

When: March 16-21, 2014

Where: University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona

The Search for Life Beyond the Solar System: conference brings together experts at University of Arizona

The Vatican Observatory and the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory will cohost a conference on The Search for Life Beyond the Solar System. Exoplanets, Biosignature & Instruments, from March 16-21, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.

Recent discoveries are rapidly increasing the number of known Earth-sized planets. Meanwhile, scientists are finding a likewise increasing range of extreme conditions in which life on Earth can persist. But what techniques and technologies will allow us to search for such life on these exoplanets?

To address this multifaceted challenge, the scientists attending the conference will include experts on exoplanet observations, early and extreme life on Earth, atmospheric biosignatures, and planet-finding telescopes.

“Astronomers, planetary scientists and astrobiologists at the University of Arizona (UA) have pioneered new methods and instruments that will make the search for life beyond the solar system possible,” said Daniel Apai, assistant professor of astronomy and planetary sciences at the UA Steward Observatory, and one of the event’s cochairs. “But reaching such an ambitious goal takes planning and time. The goal of this meeting is to discuss how we can find life among the stars within the next two decades.”

About 200 scientists from around the world are expected to attend and more than 160 scientific presentations have been submitted, said the Rev. Paul Gabor of the Vatican Observatory, the other cochair for the conference.

“Finding life beyond Earth is one of the great challenges of modern science and we are excited to have the world leaders in this field together in Tucson,” Apai said.

While the conference is not open to the public, members of the media are welcome to attend with prior registration. NASA’s Astrobiology Institute will broadcast a live feed of the entire conference, which will remain available online after the event.

There also will be a public talk by Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the UA Social Sciences building, room 100. Tarter is the outgoing director of the Center for SETI Research. SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Among the 14 invited speakers are two MacArthur “genius” Fellows: Sara Seager (MIT), an expert in extrasolar planet atmospheres and in the detection of extraterrestrial biosignatures, and Olivier Guyon (UA and Subaru Observatory), who is developing powerful optical systems for studying extrasolar planets.

Graduate students have been invited to a pre-conference workshop the weekend before the conference: 26 participants from 7 countries are slated to attend, which will be held at the UA’s Biosphere 2.

Together with the Vatican Observatory and the UA Steward Observatory, other institutions cosponsoring the meeting include the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and the International Center for Relativistic Astrophysics Network.