SETI Institute Weekly Colloquium - Upcoming Speakers

Tuesday, December 01 2015 - 12:00 pm, PST

Power laws, predictable evolution, and the limits of life

Chris Kempes
Santa Fe Institute

A central question in understanding the possibilities for life in the universe is what fundamental constraints and tradeoffs organize evolution. In this talk Dr. Kempes will discuss how power-laws in biology highlight common underlying constraints––often basic physical laws––across the diversity of life on our planet. He will then describe how work that we have done shows how these relationships can be derived and used to predict or interpret a range of phenomena including major evolutionary tradeoffs and ecological response. Specifically, Dr. Kempes will focus on energetic limitations in microbial life which allow us to predict the smallest possible bacteria and several other evolutionary transitions. Notably, he predicts that the smallest bacteria are limited by fundamental maintenance metabolism along with general space requirements. Dr. Kempes will also describe how similar work in vascular plants can be used to predict ecological structure from resource constraints and how this provides a range of tools for constraining and potentially detecting vegetation in a range of exoplanetary environments.

Tuesday, December 08 2015 - 12:00 pm, PST

Pinpointing the Search for Life in Ancient Martian Hot Springs

J.R. Skok
SETI Institute

The recent explosion of Martian surface data is set to revolutionize the way we explore that planet. Until now, mission science has had to catch up with the imposed engineering constraints. With this data, we can plan exciting new missions to specific locations with enough precision to allow engineers to get us there safely. One of the most appealing uses of this methodology is the search for evidence that life once existed on Mars. Here we discuss the developing effort to send a mission to search for life in an ancient hot spring deposit. This type of site would have all of the known requirements and preferences for life; warm waters, thermal and chemical energy, access to the subsurface and a great medium of preservation. With the target in mind, we can develop the instrumentation package and mission architecture to optimize the science return and minimize the cost to begin a hopefully long line of targeted, focused missions to explore the nuances of our Solar System.

Tuesday, December 15 2015 - 12:00 pm, PST

High Temperature Volcanism on Earth: Physical Volcanology, Mineralogy, and Geochemistry of Archean Komatiites

Michael Lesher
Laurentian University, Sudbury

Komatiites are magnesium-rich magmas characterized by very high temperature (up to 1640°C vs. ~1200°C for modern basalts), very low viscosity (0.1-1 Pa·s), and a very large interval (460-160°C) between liquidus and solidus. As a consequence, they formed highly mobile flows capable of flowing long distances over gentle slopes that - if channelized - thermally and thermomechanically eroded wallrocks and substrates. This led to the formation of some of the world’s richest nickel-copper-platinum group element deposits. The most magnesian examples formed only the Archean, marking a fundamentally different thermal structure in the Earth’s mantle prior to 2.5 Ga. 

Dr. Lesher is a world renowned expert in komatiites and he will discuss how they can help shine help a light on the Early Earth in the remote past.

Tuesday, January 05 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

Finding Amazing Structures Hidden in Big, Complex, Dense, Raw Data

Marvin Weinstein
Quantum Insights




Tuesday, January 12 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

Life in the Universe — the Breakthrough Initiatives

S. Pete Worden
Breakthrough Initiatives and Executive Director, Life in the Universe Division

On July 20, 2015, the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation announced in London, UK a new initiative to study life in the universe.  The announcement was made by Silicon Valley billionaire Yuri Milner and physicist Steven Hawking.  The Breakthrough Initiatives currently consist of two primary elements, Breakthrough Listen which is a $100M renewed search for intelligent extraterrestrial signals, and Breakthrough Message, a global competition with a $1M prize to create, but not sent a message representing humanity.  S. Pete Worden, the former Center Director of the NASA Ames Research Center, is the Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.  He will talk about these initiatives in the broader context of our search for life in the universe. 



Tuesday, January 19 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

A Novel Approach to OSETI

Eliot Gillum
SETI Institute




Tuesday, February 02 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

Exoplanet spectroscopy with diffraction primary objective telescopy

Tom Ditto

When diffraction is employed as the primary collector modality of a telescope instead of reflection or refraction, a new set of performance capabilities emerges. A diffraction-based telescope forms a spectrogram first and an image as secondary data. The results are startling. In multiple object capability, the diffraction telescope on earth can capture 2 million spectra to R > 100,000 in a single night, better for a census of exoplanets by radial velocity than any prior art. In a space telescope in a direct observation mode, this type diffraction primary objective could reveal spectral analyses of individual exoplanets. We introduce three embodiments: THE MOST, HOMES and ADEDPT.

Tom Ditto has served as a Fellow of NASA Advanced Innovative Concepts and a P.I. in the National Science Foundation SBIR program working in holographic optics. He is also a Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Film Institute. He promises a rousing media presentation.



Tuesday, February 09 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

Geology After Pluto

Jeff Moore
NASA Ames Research Center

Jeff Moore is the lead of the New Horizons Geology Team. He will talk about the discoveries made by the New Horizons mission on the fascinating fly by of the dwarf planet Pluto.



Tuesday, February 16 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion year old zircon

Elizabeth Bell




Tuesday, February 23 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

The Breakthrough Initiative - Listen and Megastructures at KIC 8463

Andrew Simeon
UC Berkeley

Adrew SImeon will give an introductory talk on 'the most Mysterious Star in the Galaxy', KIC8463. This star was located by the Kepler spacecraft operated by NASA Ames Research Center. Unlike planet candidate stars, the light curve of KIC8643 is irregular and astronomers have no clear natural cause for their observations. Andrew will discuss the possibility that we are seeing the effect of a partial Dyson sphere, or potentially the aftermath of a Wolf359 type event at this star which is 1500 light years from us.

Tuesday, March 01 2016 - 12:00 pm, PST

Bringing Nuclear Power to Mars

Frank Shu
UC Berkeley

Tuesday, April 19 2016 - 12:00 pm, PDT

The Twisted Universe: Constraints on Parity Violation within the CMB

Brian Keating
UC San Diego

Tuesday, April 26 2016 - 12:00 pm, PDT

The SOFIA Observatory: Revealing the Hidden Universe with Airborne Science

Pamela Marcum
NASA Ames Research Center