Is a Moon necessary for the Co-evolution of the Biosphere of its Ho st Planet?

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End Date


A RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting organised by:


Dr Sohan Jheeta; Dr Martin Dominik (University of St. Andrews) and Professor Nigel Mason (Open University)



The biosphere could be thought of as being the part of a planet that is capable of supporting life. A question which is often asked is: ‘is a moon necessary for generating the conditions for life to become established on a planet?’ For example, it is known that our Moon tides on the early earth had very different amplitudes and periods. This in turn generated a more cyclic environment which may have colluded in the formation of life on Earth. Is this moon-planet interaction a typical product of the planetary accretion, or does the Earth exhibit an unusual combination of properties that were necessary preconditions for the emergence of life?


This discussion meeting is intended to be interdisciplinary, encompassing: astrophysics - how common are moon-planet couplings in the Universe; geophysics – is the Earth’s magnetic field unusually strong; geochemistry – how sensitivity are biomarkers (eg carbon fractionation) when detecting earliest life forms?; geology – is plate tectonics a prerequisite requirement for the ‘kick-starting’ of life; meteorology (and astrochemistry) – how and what quantity of volatiles are brought to terrestrial planets? Were these molecules superfluous to requirements during the formation of life?; atmosphere science – was the atmosphere reducing, neutral or oxidising when life taking hold on Earth? planetology – how widespread are these atmospheres; biology – what are the environmental limits on a complex biosphere? and astrobiology – what are the conditions necessary for life to emerge? How prevalent are these conditions in the Universe?

In order to address these issues, papers are invited on these and related topics.



10:00    Registration & Coffee
    MORNING SESSION (10:25-12:00)
    Chair:  Dr Martin Dominik

10:25    Dr Sohan Jheeta
    Open and directions for the day
10.30    Dr Chris Benn (Isaac Newton Group of Telescope, La Palma)
    The Moon and the Origin of Life                

11.15    Dr René Heller (Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP))
    Exomoon Habitability Constrained by Illumination and Tidal Heating                

12:30    Lunch
    Please note that we are not able to offer sandwiches for purchase at Burlington House,
    however, there are many good sandwich shops nearby.

Chair: Professor Nigel Mason

13.15     Dr Dave Waltham (Royal Holloway, University of London)
    The Moon’s Influence on Earth Habitability: Myths and Uncertainties
14.00     Professor Jacques Laskar (Astronomie et Systèmes Dynamiques IMCCE, Observatoire de Paris)
    Moon's stabilising effect on the Earth's obliquity        
14.45    Professor Nathan Nelson (University of Tel Aviv)
    Life under the Sun

15:30    Tea will be available in the Lower Library of the Geological Society for those attending the Open (Monthly A&G) Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society.