Friends of the RAS (only) lecture: Detecting signs of life on a distant planet

This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail). This planet is one of sixteen super-Earths discovered by the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. This planet is about 3.6 times as massive as the Earth lis at the edge of the habitable zone around the star, where liquid water, and perhaps even life, could potentially exist.
ESO/M. Kornmesser
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***This lecture will take place online, Friends of the RAS will be sent a link to register via Eventbrite***


Earth is teeming with life from the very depths of the ocean where no light penetrates, to small brine layers between ice crystals and near-boiling iridescent waters of Yellowstone. As we discover the vast diversity of extremophile life on Earth, our minds can only begin to imagine the possibilities for life to exist on other planets in the Universe. This talks looks at how we are going to characterize terrestrial planet atmospheres orbiting other stars with future missions, hopefully finding evidence of life in the Universe and answering the age-old question of "Are we alone?"

Dr. Sarah Rugheimer is an astrophysicist at Oxford, and next summer will be starting a faculty job at York University in Toronto. She works on how to detect life on an exoplanet by looking for atmospheric biosignatures. Her research interests are modelling the atmosphere and climate of extrasolar planets with a particular focus on atmospheric biosignatures in Earth-like planets as well as modelling early Earth conditions.

In addition to research, Sarah is interested public outreach and teaching. In May 2021 she gave a 5 minute TED talk called “The Search for Microscopic Aliens” which has over 1.6 million views on She previously has been awarded the Barrie Jones Award and the BSA Rosalind Franklin Lectureship in 2019, and the Caroline Herschel Lectureship Prize in 2018. Her new astrobiology course for the public is available on Amazon Audible Originals, called “Searching for Extraterrestrial Life.”


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