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David Grinspoon at Café Sci2

What is life and how should we look for it elsewhere in the universe?

Tuesday 26 April 2011, 6:30 PM, at Brooklyn's near LoDo Denver


About the topic

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WebDavid Grinspoon is an internationally known Planetary Scientist who is funded by NASA to study the surface and atmospheric evolution of Earthlike planets elsewhere in the universe. Grinspoon was awarded the 2006 Carl Sagan Medal for Public Communication of Planetary Science by the American Astronomical Society. He is Curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Adjunct Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science at the University of Colorado. Dr. Grinspoon serves as a frequent advisor to NASA on space exploration strategy, and is lead scientist for astrobiology on an instrument that will fly on NASA's next Mars rover. He is Interdisciplinary Scientist for Climate Studies on Venus Express, the European Space Agency's mission which is currently in orbit around Venus. He has also lectured and published widely. His first book, Venus Revealed, (Perseus Books, 1998) was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. His latest book, Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life won the 2004 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Research Nonfiction. Entertainment Weekly called Lonely Planets "proof that life on this planet is both intelligent and funny." Grinspoon's popular writing has appeared in Slate, Scientific American, Natural History, The Sciences , Astronomy, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. He is a contributing editor for Sky & Telescope Magazine, where his "Cosmic Relief" column is published monthly. His technical papers have been published in Nature, Science, and numerous other journals. Dr. Grinspoon has been featured on numerous television (PBS's Life Beyond Earth; BBC's The Planets) and radio (NPR's Science Friday and Weekend Edition, Wisconsin Public Radio, BBC World Service) shows, and he is a regular astrobiology correspondent for ABC Radio. He has given invited talks at international conferences throughout the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Grinspoon is also an award-winning musician who has played guitar and sung in several great bands destined for obscurity. In fact, Dr. G played lead guitar for a band called the Geeks years before being a geek became cool. Grinspoon holds degrees in Philosophy of Science and Planetary Science from Brown University and a doctorate in Planetary Sciences from the University of Arizona.

About the topic

As we explore the universe we are on the lookout for the signs of life on other planets. But what exactly are we looking for, and how would we recognize it? Since we only have one example of a planet with life, how do we know what we will have in common with alien organisms? How can we search without simply projecting ourselves out into the universe? Astrobiologist and author David Grinspoon will discuss our current efforts to search for life elsewhere, what we have learned from studying exotic life-forms on Earth, and how the quest for alien life sharpens our ideas about the nature of life and the place of Earth and humanity in the universe.

Lots of interesting questions to ask: We're carbon-based, is that the only way life can be? Is silicon a possible base (it is in Sci-Fi)? What about water—essential or optional? Temperature range? Is sex necessary?


David has several web sites. Check out Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life

And his DMNS website.


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