Astronomy

Searching for the Origins of Life

Lisa Kaltenegger receives 1 million US dollar award from Simons Foundation

11. 9. 2013 | Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger is an expert on the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars than our Sun. This month, she has been named an investigator for the "Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life". Kaltenegger has her own research group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg.
How life began is one of the great unsolved scientific questions in this day and age. In order to tackle this question, the New York-based Simons Foundation has launched a collaborative effort to advance our understanding of the beginning of life: the "Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life" will bring together researchers from fields as diverse as astrophysics and molecular biology. The Simons Collaboration is co-chaired by Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, a specialist on the emergence of cell-like, self-replicating structures from pre-life chemistry, and astronomer Dimiter Sasselov, Director of Harvard University's "Origins of Life Initiative".
Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger
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(© Elisabeth Schuh)


Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger

This month, the astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger has been named as one of the Collaboration's investigators. Kaltenegger, who holds a dual position as a research group leader of the "Super-Earths and Life" group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and as a research associate at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is a specialist for those exoplanets that are most interesting for the search for life on other worlds: Earth-like, rocky planets with the right characteristics to allow the existence of liquid water – a precondition for life as we know it.

With her Simons Foundation Investigator Award of 1 million US dollars, Kaltenegger will study models for the "spectral fingerprints" of exoplanet atmospheres – the minute traces left by different chemical elements in these atmospheres, traceable in theory when the central star's light is filtered through the atmosphere. In modeling spectral fingerprints for Earth-like planets, Kaltenegger will prepare the ground for future observations with the next generation of telescopes that might one day find life on yet undiscovered worlds. "This award is an amazing opportunity to explore the range of different worlds out there," Kaltenegger says. "With such a wide range of investigators from biology to astronomy, the Simons Collaboration offers a unique opportunity to learn more about other worlds and the origin of life – and it's exciting to be a part of that!"   (© Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, AcademiaNet)
Dr. Markus Pössel

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