Life in the Universe, Life in Small Places
Originally posted on Research & Collections:
I have the great fortune of being a professional scientist, where I can research, contemplate, and discuss the frontiers of exploring the early solar system. As Director of the Astronomy and Space Observation Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, I am now one of two astronomers at this growing institution of multiple disciplines. Much of my research involves analyzing spectral data from forming stars near to our own, that I collected in the recent past at Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
I am also an Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University, and I am currently in the first weeks of teaching a new crop of undergraduates about the science behind the search for life in the Universe, or astrobiology. The new semester marks the resurrection of an inevitable intellectual exercise into some of the fundamental questions that swirl about the search for life in space: What can the evolution of life on Earth tell us about life beyond? How do we search for this life? Could there be intelligent alien life, perhaps watching us right now? And, looming over all of this, why should we care? These are the questions that frame my class, and ones which I think touch the heart of what it means to be the only technological species on the only living planet of which we can be certain, rocketing around our star at nearly 70,000 miles per hour. Our Sun is one of billions in our galaxy, which is but one of billions of galaxies in the Universe.
And yet, we have no present knowledge of any life beyond our planet.