National Geographic Live! The Search for Life Beyond Earth

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Today we attended National Geographic Live! The Search for Life Beyond Earth at Kauffman Center. The speaker was Dr. Kevin Peter Hand, who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory creating and planning projects for NASA. Dr. Hand’s idea is that since animals and microbial creatures on Earth can live in environments outside a range suitable for humans, there is a possibility that life in space could also adapt and flourish in those same kinds of environments. The extreme environments that Dr. Hand spoke about today were the permafrost of Alaska, deep sea hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean, and hot springs in Africa. Each of these areas have diverse animal and microbial life, and serve as a testing ground for different tools that might help find life in space.

As Dr. Hand went through the lecture, he showed us pictures and film clips from his research. We saw how he and his team have studied frozen lakes in the Alaskan permafrost, and how they have developed an amazing underwater rover that climbs on the underside of the frozen ice. He showed us clips from “Aliens of the Deep” that showed a visit he made with a team to hydrothermal vents at the Mid-Ocean Ridge. We also saw comparisons of various icy moons in the solar system to the Earth’s water supply. Some of the moons are estimated to have 2-3 times as much water as we have on Earth!

He also showed us an amazing infographic by National Geographic detailing the routes of the nearly 200 unmanned missions made since 1958.

One very interesting part of the lecture was when Dr. Hand walked us through images sent back to Earth by space probes over the past few decades. Not only were we able to see the differences in image clarity from the earliest years vs. images made today, but we also learned about the different features present in those images. We were able to see the crevasses in the ice on faraway moons, the craters made in another moon’s ice by asteroids, and how an area where a water spout was estimated to spray water into the atmosphere to create what scientists believe to be fluffy snow so deep it would be over your head.

We really enjoyed today’s lecture. Dr. Hand was an engaging speaker who did a great job of conveying his excitement and enthusiasm. He did a great job of interacting with the audience, taking complex concepts and making them understandable for kids and parents alike. He also put a lot of humor into the lecture, like when we were viewing an underwater microbial growth area. He encouraged the kids to pretend they were microbiologists, telling them that a microbiologist would “oooohhhhh and aaahhhhh” over the pictures. They had a good laugh over that, and at the other times during his lecture that he said “now you need to oooohhhhh and aaahhhhh!”

Many thanks to the Kauffman Center for hosting this event, to Dr. Hand for a wonderful lecture and to National Geographic Live for providing an excellent speaker!

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