Skip to main content

Speaker's Night: "Intraterrestrial to Extraterrestrial: Deep Subsurface Microbial Communities and (Searching for) Life on Mars"

Speaker: Dr. Haley M. Sapers, Ph.D., Research Associate, Dept. of Earth and Space Science and Engineering, York University and Visiting Scientist,California Institute of Technology

Abstract: Microbial life on Earth exists deep into the crust, where it ekes out a living at the energy edge of life, getting both carbon and energy from chemical reactions literally eating - and breathing - rock. Life in the deep subsurface does not depend on energy from the sun, and many microbes of the deep do not even depend on organic carbon, obtaining carbon from inorganic sources such as methane gas. These microbial communities are teaching us what life looks likes and the types of biosignatures it can leave behind in the extreme environments where we may expect life beyond Earth, such as deep within the Martian crust. Here I will share the challenges of studying life almost 5000’ underground and what these microbial communities tell us about how to search for life on Mars. The subsurface of Mars is perhaps the largest, and longest lived potentially habitable environment beyond Earth. SHERLOC, the DUV Raman instrument on the Perseverance Rover was tested on life in the Earth’s subsurface and this instrument is currently being used to identify high priority samples from Jezero Crater, Mars, for eventual return to Earth to look for signs of life. Before we can search for life beyond Earth, we need to know what we’re looking for, where to find it, and how to interpret the data. In this presentation we will discuss the philosophical definitions of life, the complexities of biosignature, and life as we don’t know it as we reach beyond Earth on our journey to discover if we’re alone in the universe.

Who can attend: Everyone
Fee: Free
Registration: Not required
Location: Online.

Organized by: RASC, Toronto Centre
York University Department of Physics & Astronomy