Friday 18th September 2020

12.30 - 14.00

‘Are we alone in the universe?’ It is the perennial question that has challenged scientists for decades and inspired a plethora of science fiction writers and filmmakers.  

This summer the Mars2020 Rover launched and will be the first mission since the 1970s to search for biosignatures, habitability and past life on Mars. Using telescopes like TESS and Kepler, researchers have also found dozens of habitable rocky planets orbiting other stars. In this decade, for the first time, we will have the technology to start observing biosignatures on other worlds both in our solar system and beyond.

In this discussion we will talk about the scientific advances being made in our search to answer the age old question of "Are We Alone?" and touch on the philosophical implications of such a detection on contextualizing our place in the Cosmos.

We’ll be asking:

  • What exactly is a biosignature?
  • How are they detected from such huge distances across space?
  • What novel technologies are being used to explore other worlds?
  • What could the impact be for humankind if we discover that there are other lifeforms in the universe?

The discussion will be chaired by Professor Fred Taylor, Halley Professor of Physics Emeritus and Fellow of Jesus College, author of several books including Exploring the Planets: A Memoir (Oxford University Press, 2016) and The Scientific Exploration of Mars (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Our panellists are:

Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert - Jesus College Professorial Fellow and Halley Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford. Ray works on the physics of climate of planets - including Earth - and his research explores the past four billion years of the Universe and the next several billion years, extending from the Solar System out to the newly discovered exoplanets.

Dr Sarah Rugheimer  - Hugh Price Fellow and Glasstone Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford.  An astronomer and astrobiologist working on how to detect life on an exoplanet, Sarah’s research focuses on the atmospheric composition of exoplanets and star-planet interaction.

Dr Ramses Ramirez – Affiliate Research Scientist at the Space Science Institute in Colorado, US. Ramses is a planetary scientist and astrobiologist who studies potentially habitable planets both within and outside of our solar system. He develops atmospheric and geologic models to assess the physical processes that make planets habitable, which includes modeling climates, atmospheric escape, and atmospheric-magma ocean interactions.

Juliana Garcia-Mejia - Graduate Student, Ford Foundation Fellow and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University.

Join in

To watch and participate in the discussion, join us on Zoom by following the link below:

Meeting ID: 835 0339 7754

Password: 925663

If you’re unable to watch on the day, a video of the event will be available to view afterwards. Follow us on Twitter @JesusOxford for the link. 

This discussion has been organised by Patricia Daley, Vice-Principal and Professor of Human Geography, and Paulina Kewes, Professor of English, with the assistance of  Dr Brittany Wellner James, Development Director, and Jude Eades, Communications Manager.