Podcast: Capturing Life Off Planet and Here on Earth

Image (Credit): Venus as captured by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft in February 1974. (NASA)

I recommend checking out Alan Alda’s interview with astronomer Sara Seager in a recent Clear + Vivid podcast episode. MIT Professor Seager has focused her work on exoplanet atmospheres as well as another planet nearby – Venus. In the interview, she discusses her early work as well as her theories about the existence of life in the atmosphere of Venus. She also discusses her involvement with MIT’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope (TESS). 

And while I do not remember it coming up during the interview, Professor Seager is also known for the Seager equation (shown below), which is less demanding than the Drake equation and focuses on any form of life on another planet (without reference to technology).

  • N = the number of planets with detectable signs of life
  • N* = the number of stars observed
  • FQ = the fraction of stars that are quiet
  • FHZ = the fraction of stars with rocky planets in the habitable zone
  • FO = the fraction of stars with observable planets
  • FL = the fraction of planets that have life
  • FS = the fraction of life forms that produce planetary atmospheres with one or more detectable signature gases

But in addition to the science, it was a fascinating discussion about Professor Seager’s life covering the early death of her husband from cancer, her attempts to get her life back on track, and her discovery later in life that she has autism. Most science stories focus on the work, but Mr. Alda has a unique way of drawing out the person in these interviews. It is a great episode, and you can read more about Professor Seager’s life and work in her book The Smallest Lights in the Universe.

Credit: Crown Publishing