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September 5, 2019 – Searching for Life Beyond Earth – Nathalie Cabrol


The concept of Habitable Zone (HZ) was once the only way to estimate the chances of a planet to support life. The past decades of exploration in the Solar System and the study of terrestrial extreme environments have shown that the subsurface and interior of several planets and moons located outside the HZ had – or may still have – conditions suitable for the development and survival of life. Beyond the Solar System, the discovery of thousands of exoplanets gives us a chance to expand our understanding of planetary system formation and evolution, and infer their ability to develop biology. These recent discoveries also give us important information about the probability for the existence of other technologically advanced civilizations in the universe. While the current estimates of life potential, whether simple or complex, are based on concepts such as planetary habitability and the coevolution of life and environment, emerging new theories bridge biology, neuroscience, information technology, and quantum physics, and if verified, would fundamentally change our views on the origin and nature of life, and the meaning of its exploration. 

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Dr. Nathalie Cabrol is an astrobiologist, a planetary scientist, and an explorer. She joined the SETI Institute (SI) in 1998, and became the Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SI in August 2015. In this capacity, she maps the strategic vision for the search for life beyond Earth, including the design and implementation of a greater holistic approach in the search for the origin and nature of life and its detection, whether life is simple, complex, or technologically advanced.

In addition to charting the scientific vision at the SI, Nathalie leads projects in planetary science and astrobiology, develops science exploration strategies for Mars, Titan, and the Outer Solar System icy moons, and designs robotic field experiments. She was a member of the Mars Exploration Rover Science Team, and led the study and selection of Gusev crater as the landing site for the Spirit rover. She explores high altitude lakes in the Andes between 4,500 m and 6,000 m elevation (14,700-20,000 ft), where environmental conditions are analogous to early Mars. With her team, she documents life’s adaptation to extreme environments, the effect of rapid climate change on lake ecosystems and habitats on Earth, its geobiological signatures, and relevance to planetary exploration. She holds the women records for altitude in scuba (CODE rebreather) and free diving.