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SPS Seminar - “The Habitability of Aqueous Environments in the Solar System”

Thursday, November 12, 2020 - 14:00 to 15:00

When:  Thursday 12th November at 14.00

Where:  Microsoft Teams - Online

Speaker:  Andrew Stevens – University of Edinburgh


Hosted by: Jack Wright/Manish Patel


Astrobiologists have been ‘following the water’ since the birth of the field. But now, with observations of liquid water in the subsurface of Mars, glimpses of subsurface oceans across the Solar System, and detection of thousands of exoplanets in the habitable zones of their stars, we must begin to ask deeper questions about whether these aqueous environments are actually habitable or not. While water is a necessary condition for life, it is not a sufficient one – many other factors must combine positively to produce an environment that is habitable, and it is relatively trivial to produce an ‘uninhabitable’ aqueous environment. Extremes of conditions can easily take a wet environment from habitable to uninhabitable and a vast array of aqueous solutes can have strongly deleterious effects on organisms.

In this seminar I will explore properties of aqueous environments such as water activity and chaotropicity and detail our knowledge of how they affect biological systems. We will then explore what we know about the values of these properties in astrobiologically relevant environments in the Solar System and begin to narrow down the envelope of habitability in our neighbourhood. Doing this enables a more targeted search for evidence of life beyond the Earth.

“Adam is a postdoc in the UK Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh. He completed his PhD at the Open University trying to unravel the thorny issue of methane in the Martian atmosphere. His current research looks at many aspects of habitability beyond the Earth and how to detect the presence of life. This involves simulating extra-terrestrial environments, using microbiological techniques to measure habitability, and arguing a lot about definitions.”


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