Scientific Colloquium
October 25, 2013

"Astrobiology and the Anthropocene Epoch"

Informed by comparative planetology and a survey of the major episodes in Earth history, this lecture will offer taxonomy of planetary catastrophes meant to illuminate the unusual nature of the “Anthropocene”, the current era of human-driven planetary scale changes, and reframe our current environmental and technological predicaments as part of a larger narrative of planetary evolution. This saga has now reached the pivotal moment when humans have become a dominant force of planetary change, and geological and human history are becoming irreversibly conjoined. Is this a likely or even inevitable challenge facing other complex life in the universe? Possible implications for exoplanet characterization and SETI will be considered, as well as the choices our civilization faces in attempting to create a wisely managed Earth.

About the speaker:

David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist who studies the possible conditions for life on other planets. In November 2012, he became inaugural Baruch S. Blumberg/NASA Chair in Astrobiology at the John W. Kluge Center of the United States Library of Congress, where he is researching and writing a book about the human influence on Earth, seen in cosmic perspective. He is also Adjunct Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science at the University of Colorado. He is a frequent advisor to NASA on space exploration strategy, and is Co-Investigator on the RAD instrument (Radiation Assessment Detector) on the Mars Curiosity Rover. He serves as Interdisciplinary Scientist on the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Venus. Grinspoon was awarded the 2006 Carl Sagan Medal for Public Communication of Planetary Science by the American Astronomical Society. His first book, Venus Revealed, was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. His 2004 book, Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life won the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Research Nonfiction. Grinspoon’s popular writing has appeared in Slate, Scientific American, Natural History, The Sciences, Astronomy, Seed, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and Sky & Telescope Magazine where he is a contributing editor and writes the monthly “Cosmic Relief” column. Dr. Grinspoon has been featured on dozens of television and radio shows. His technical papers have been published in Nature, Science, and numerous other journals, and he has given invited talks at international conferences throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan.

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