Over the last few decades, scientists have found thousands of planets beyond our own. Some of those planets might be habitable, and perhaps even inhabited already; but how can we tell? Clara Sousa-Silva (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard-Smithsonian) looks for signs of life on other planets, using astronomical tools such as spectroscopy to detect the faint signals emitted by potential alien biospheres. In this presentation, she will answer the question: “Would we know life if we saw it?”, drawing on her experience investigating strange molecules on strange planets, such as her recent work detecting phosphine on Venus.
About the Presenter
Clara Sousa-Silva is a quantum astrochemist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She investigates how molecules interact with light so that they can be detected on faraway worlds. Clara spends most of her time studying molecules that life can produce so that, one day, she can detect an alien biosphere. Her favorite molecular biosignature is phosphine: a terrifying gas associated with mostly unpleasant life. When she is not deciphering exoplanet atmospheres, Clara works hard to persuade the next generation of scientists to become an active part of the astronomical community.
About the Harvard Discovery Series
Formerly known as The Digital Futures Discovery Series, the Harvard Discovery Series is a collaboration between Cabot Science Library and the Harvard University Digital Scholarship Group (DSSG). This event series brings scholars on the frontiers of digital knowledge-making to a Harvard audience in an intimate and interactive setting. All presentations will be virtual during the 2020-2021 academic year.