'Search for Life on Other Planets' concludes series

University Park, Pa. -- James Kasting, distinguished professor of geosciences at Penn State, will present "The Search for Life on Other Planets" on Feb. 28. The free event is a Penn State component of the International Year of Astronomy and is the last in a series of six lectures in the 2009 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Our Universe: From the Big Bang to Life." No registration is required. The lecture will be held from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus.

Kasting will describe the most advanced strategies for discovering a planet like Earth outside our solar system. "The search for another Earth is one of the most exciting new fields in science, and it may be accomplished within the next 15 to 20 years," Kasting said.

Although scientists have discovered hundreds of gas-giant planets in recent years, they have not yet found any planets outside our solar system that might support life with a solid surface and a healthy atmosphere. Kasting will describe the methods scientists are using now to search for habitable planets, as well as the kinds of planets that have been discovered so far with these methods. He also will describe new projects involving ambitious space missions designed to search for Earth-sized planets around Sun-like stars, one of which will be launched in March.

Kasting earned an A.B. degree in chemistry and physics at Harvard University in 1975 and then, at the University of Michigan, he earned a master of science in physics in 1978, a master of science degree in atmospheric science in 1978, and a doctoral degree in atmospheric science in 1979.

He participated in the Advanced Study Program of the National Center for Atmospheric Research from 1979 to 1981 and was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center from 1981 to 1983. He became a research scientist at the Space Science Division of the NASA Ames Research Center in 1983. He joined the Penn State faculty as an associate professor of geosciences and meteorology in 1988, achieving the rank of professor in 1994 and of distinguished professor in 2003. From 2003 to 2004 he was a distinguished visiting scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. He also was a visiting scientist in 2006 at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Clamat et de l'Environment at Gif-sur-Yvette in France.

He has served the scientific community as a member of many advisory groups and planning teams, including the NASA/NSF ExoPlanet Task force. He currently serves as a member of the editorial boards of the journals Astrobiology and Geobiology, as a member of the NASA R&A Management Operations Working Group, and as a member of the NASA Advisory Council Astrophysics Subcommittee.

Kasting is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and a Fellow of the Geochemical Society. He is a member of the Planetary Society and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He co-authored the book titled The Earth System, which was published by Prentice-Hall in 1999, and he is the author of the book titled "How to Find a Habitable Planet," which will be published this year by Princeton University Press.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information at (814) 863-0901 or science@psu.edu. Information also is at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/frontiers/ online.

Contacts: 
Last Updated March 19, 2009