Dimitar Sasselov: Does Life Exist on Other Planets?

[ 0 ] June 30, 2013 |

Astronomer and scientist Dimitar Sasselov is inspired by one big, age-old question: Is there life on other planets?

“People have thought there was life on other planets before we knew of all the planets,” Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origin of Life Initiative told genConnect at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival. Within the past decade, scientists have discovered thousands of planets that resemble the Earth. “So,” he said, “for the first time, we have a shot at answering the question is there life on other planets?”

Watch Dimitar Sasselov, who led the team that discovered the most distant known planet in the Milky Way in 2002,  OGLE-TR-56b, discuss his current venture and how science comes full circle at the Aspen Ideas Festival:

Related: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu at the Aspen Ideas Festival: Katrina and the Third New Orleans Renaissance


Dimitar Sasselov

When it comes to the actual life on these planets, however, it is harder to detect large creatures than it is to detect microbes. Microbes, says Sasselov, produce gases which secretes oxygen gas, which in turn can be detected all over the planet. “That’s how you can tell the Earth is inhabited,” he says. “Even if animals are all over the place they don’t make such a mark on the planet as the microbial biosphere does.”

All scientists want a big challenge when trying to answer questions – and proving life exists on other planets is certainly a challenge.

“Science, in general, progresses along the lines of trying to understand the world around us and it teaches us about ourselves, as well,” says Sasselov.  “It all comes back to us. Who are we? Are we alone? Is it all a fluke in the universe or is it something that has happened all over the place and one day we will become a part of a community? It’s very exciting.”

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Category: Aspen Ideas Festival 2013

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About Dimitar Sasselov: Dimitar Sasselov is a professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, and Senior Advisor of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. He holds a [...]
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