Thursday, February 3, 2022
Constraining the Drake Equation: The Present and Future of the Search for Life
Are we alone in the Universe? 60 years ago, Frank Drake posed a unique answer to that question, positing that, given a handful of statistics about the local galaxy, one could calculate the number of intelligent civilizations currently residing in the Milky Way. Today, that equation poses a serious question to astrophysics: how can we better constrain those statistics? First, I will introduce the concept of exoplanet spectroscopy and discuss the latest methods and challenges of the field. Then, I will talk about the "n_e" factor: the number of planets which could support life. My present work studying the atmospheres of hot- and ultra-hot Jupiters at multiple orbital phases serves as a perfect testing ground for the statistical methods which will one day constrain the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets, answering the question: Is it Earth-like? Venus-like? Mars-like? I will also discuss the "f_l" factor, the fraction of habitable planets which could support life. One of the biggest challenges faced by the next generation of telescopes will be the massive degeneracy of possible atmospheres on Earth- and super-Earth-sized worlds. I will discuss new and intriguing techniques for characterizing both biosignatures and anti-biosignatures in the very-low signal-to-noise regime and address the question: Could life develop on a given planet?