“Rebuilding the Habitable Zone from the Bottom Up”

Speaker: Caleb Scharf, NASA Ames
Friday, April 28, 2023
Time: 2:30 – 4:00pm
Location: ISB 221

The idea of habitability has been useful for categorizing places where life might exist in the universe. Circumstellar habitable zones estimate whether rocky planets might harbor liquid surface water, geophysical and tidal habitable zones gauge places like icy moons. Combined with biological constraints of energy and element availability, habitability can be key for eliminating false positive biosignatures. But is there a more fundamental and complete way to talk about all of this? I’ll share a proposal for a concept of “computational zones” that digs deep into the fundamentals of what we think we know about life, and its relationship to matter, energy, and thermodynamics. With some simple examples I’ll also show how we can apply this to real (and imagined) questions, and what it suggests for the kinds of measurements and missions that could have the greatest astrobiological impact.

About the Speaker:

Caleb Scharf did his undergraduate studies in physics at Durham University and received his PhD in Astronomy from the University of Cambridge. He is the senior scientist for astrobiology at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Previously, he was the director of astrobiology at Columbia University in New York. His research spans observational cosmology and high-energy astrophysics, exoplanetary science, and astrobiology. He has also served as a global science coordinator for the Earth-Life Science Institute’s Origins Network at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. In 2022 Scharf was the recipient of the Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communication in planetary science from the American Astronomical Society.