Bridging Worlds: Exploring Titan and Exoplanets in the Quest for Astrobiological Insights”

Speaker: Dr. Kristin S. Sotzen, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
Friday, October 27, 2023
Time: 3:00 – 4:45pm
Location: ISB 431

The questions of whether, how, and where life may have developed beyond Earth are some of the most enduring and tantalizing questions in human history, prompting explorations within our own solar system and the study of exoplanets orbiting distant stars. Despite substantial scientific advances and discoveries in recent decades, significant elements pertaining to the probability of extraterrestrial habitability and life remain essentially unconstrained. Two such factors include 1) the processes and timelines required for prebiotic chemistry, and 2) the likelihood of a given world hosting conditions conducive to habitability and the development of life. For the time being, science investigations regarding prebiotic timelines and processes will be restricted to our solar system, and NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan provides an innovative platform by which to explore an ocean world that hosts a cornucopia of organic molecules. On the other hand, the recent profusion of exoplanet discoveries offers an intriguing opportunity to evaluate the population demographics of planets outside of our solar system and the probability of a given exoplanet being hospitable for life as we know it. I will provide an overview of the Dragonfly mission and a discussion of current and potential exoplanet observations that aim to address two key considerations in astrobiology.


About the speaker:

Kristin Sotzen is a space systems engineer and planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).  She is currently serving as the Instrument Scientist and Systems Engineer for the Dragonfly Geophysics and Meteorology Package for NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.  As a space systems engineer, she has worked in concept development, architecture evaluation, and interface definition for a variety of space systems and missions.  Dr. Sotzen is also the Science PI for NASA’s “Estimating Exoplanet Population Demographics with Planetary Infrared Excess” XRP program, a co-investigator/collaborator on several JWST exoplanet observing programs, and a co-investigator on NASA’s “The M-dwarf Opportunity: Characterizing Nearby M-dwarf Habitable Zone Planets” ICAR program.  Her research focuses on the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres using transmission and emission spectroscopy.

Dr. Sotzen holds a BS in Engineering Physics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an MS in Applied Physics from Johns Hopkins University.  She earned her Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.