LPL Colloquium: Dr. Giada Arney
The Search for Life Beyond with LUVOIR
Dr. Giada Arney
Research Space Scientist
NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center
The Large Ultra Violet-Optical-Infrared (LUVOIR) Surveyor is one of four mission concepts being studied by NASA in preparation for the 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey. The LUVOIR concept is a large (8-15 m) general-purpose space-based observatory that aims to trace a path from the dawn of the universe to life-bearing worlds. A next frontier of astronomy is to directly image temperate Earth-sized in planets in the habitable zones of sunlike stars, measure their spectra, and analyze their atmospheres and surfaces for signs of life. Quantifying the frequency of habitable conditions in other planetary systems and maximizing our chances of discovering life on another world requires observations of dozen candidate exoplanets. To meet this challenge, LUVOIR anticipates observing roughly 30-50 rocky exoplanets in their systems’ habitable zones. LUVOIR will not only complete the census of nearby exo-Earths but will measure the compositions of their atmospheres in detail, searching for signs of biosignature gases. These gases will be considered in the full context of their planetary and stellar environments to rule out biosignature false positives. To broaden our understanding of what a habitable and inhabited world may look like, the LUVOIR team has considered the diverse environments and dominant biospheres of Earth’s long geological history to guide our search strategy; LUVOIR would be capable of detecting life on Earth for all of our planet’s inhabited history known from the geological rock record. In this talk, I will provide an overview of the LUVOIR mission concept, explain general strategies for the search for life outside the solar system developed by members of the astrobiological community, and discuss how LUVOIR would search for life beyond. The survey of the atmospheric composition of dozens of potentially habitable worlds would bring about a revolution in our understanding of planetary formation and evolution, and may usher in a new era of comparative astrobiology.
Host: Dr. Ilaria Pascucci