Hylton Performing Arts Center

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LLI: Rare Earth

Presented ByLifelong Learning Institute, Manassas
When/WhereWednesday, Apr 10, 2019 10:30amHylton Performing Arts Center, Gregory Family Theater, Science and Technology

Instructor: Dr. James R. Zimbelman

In the last twenty years we have learned that at least thousands of planets orbit stars beyond our Sun, yet very few of these newly discovered planets appear to be similar to Earth. How ‘rare’ is our Earth? This lecture is based around the many factors that contribute to reaching an answer to this question, as described in the 2009 book Rare Earth, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee (Copernicus/Springer). Our Sun turns out to be just the right type of star to provide stable conditions in which life was able to flourish on Earth, but also the neighboring planets in our solar system, along with a host of unique properties of our planet, all played important roles in making Earth the right place for complex life to abound. The conclusion reached by the authors is that while simple (single celled) life may turn out to be somewhat common off the Earth, complex (multi-cellular) life like the plants and animals we are familiar with may be extremely rare. We will also review some recent discoveries about exoplanets (those orbiting stars other than the Sun) and about objects in our solar system, both of which are relevant to the general question of the rarity of conditions that we take for granted here on Earth.

Dr. James R. Zimbelman is a planetary geologist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. He has been at the Smithsonian since 1988, conducting research on analysis of spacecraft imaging data of the planets, geologic mapping of Mars and Venus, and investigations of lava flows and sand dunes on planetary surfaces. Dr. Zimbelman is a lecturer on cruises organized by the Smithsonian Journey program and on commercial cruise lines for which the Smithsonian provides lecturers. He has presented several classes for LLI-Manassas.

This event is open to the public. For more information about the Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas, visit: lli-manassas.org

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