Is the Earth Special?

Is our planet special in any way, or are Earth-like planets common in the universe? Is life on Earth special in any way, or should we expect life elsewhere to resemble life on Earth?

Recent observations from the Kepler satellite and the world's largest telescopes have made significant progress in answering the question: How common are planets like the Earth? But looking for extraterrestrial life is much harder. Astronomers haven't found life elsewhere and astrobiologist struggle with the idea of what life is, and what kind of life we should expect elsewhere.

Six world experts will address both of these questions and present the latest results from the frontiers of astrobiology and planetary science.


7:30 PM - 8:00 PM


Dr Jessie Christiansen - NASA Exoplanet Science Institute/California Institute of Technology
Professor David J .Stevenson - California Institute of Technology
Associate Professor Daniel Fabrycky - University of Chicago

8:00PM - 8:30PM

Panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Associate Professor Charley Lineweaver - Australian National University.

8:30 PM - 9:00 PM


Associate Professor Simonetta Gribaldo - Institut Pasteur
Professor Kim Sterelny - Australian National University
Associate Professor Jochen Brocks - Australian National University

9:00 PM - 9:30 PM

Panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Associate Professor Charley Lineweaver - Australian National University.

Panelists Info:

Dr Jessie Christiansen - NASA Exoplanet Science Institute/California Institute of Technology
Dr Christiansen is an Astronomer at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute. She has worked on the NASA Kepler mission for over seven years, and before that worked on the NASA EPOXI mission as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr Christiansen works on detecting, characterizing and cataloguing extrasolar planets. She has participated in the discovery of thousands of exoplanets and is working on NASA's future exoplanet missions to find thousands more.

Professor David J .Stevenson - California Institute of Technology
David Stevenson is the Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology and is an Andrew D. White Professor at large at Cornell University. From 1976-78 he was a Research Fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at ANU. A native of New Zealand, his early work was in the condensed matter physics of planetary interiors, especially giant planets, but his wide-ranging career has included contributions to the interpretation of planetary magnetic fields, the formation of planetary cores, melt migration, the origin of the Moon and numerous aspects of planetary and satellite formation, evolution and structure. He was involved in the Cassini mission and is a Co-Investigator and group leader in the Juno mission, currently in orbit at Jupiter. Awards include Fellowship in the Royal Society, membership of the National Academy of Sciences, the Urey Prize (American Astronomical Society) and Hess Medal (American Geophysical Union).

Associate Professor Daniel Fabrycky - University of Chicago
Daniel Fabrycky is an Associate Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. He was educated at Caltech and Princeton University, after which he held NASA postdoctoral fellowships. His speciality is in the dynamics of planetary systems, both in their formative stages and in today's observations. He has developed and tested theories of why some gas-giant planets hug their host stars in tight orbits, showed how interactions between observed planets cause their orbital periods to vary and thereby reveal their masses and probed their origins through the architectures of these systems.

Associate Professor Simonetta Gribaldo - Institut Pasteur
Simonetta Gribaldo is an Evolutionary Microbiologist and Associate Professor at the Institut Pasteur, Paris. She completed her PhD in 2001 at the University of Rome, Italy, and then moved to France for her postdoctoral studies. She obtained a permanent position in 2005 at the Institut Pasteur, Paris, where she is currently head of the team « Microbial Phylogenomics » at the Department of Microbiology. The research interests of Professor Gribaldo focus on ancient evolution. By applying phylogenomics approaches, she investigates the deep structure of the Tree of Life and the major evolutionary transitions that occurred during life on our planet. Among her major contributions are the establishment of robust reference organismal phylogenies, in particular for the Archaea, which have provided a novel view on the diversity and evolutionary history of the most enigmatic of the three domains of life. Recently, she has proposed a novel topology of the universal tree, which supports an emergence of eukaryotes from within the Archaea, and at the same time, it indicates methanogenesis as the most ancient archaeal metabolism. She is presently tackling another important challenge in ancient evolution, i.e. resolving the global phylogeny of Bacteria and the nature of the last common bacterial ancestor.

Professor Kim Sterelny - Australian National University 
Kim Sterelny is an Australian philosopher based at the ANU. He has spent his career working at the boundaries between philosophy and science, especially the life sciences. In the last decade or so, he has mostly worked on the evolution of the human mind and human social life, originally as an example of a major transition in evolution. For human social life and human social learning are very different indeed from the rest of the vertebrates. He continues to have a central interest in macroevolution: the largest scale patterns in the history of life, and in the mechanisms that explain those patterns.

Associate Professor Jochen Brocks - Australian National University
Jochen Brocks, from the Research School of Earth Sciences at ANU, likes to call his field of research 'Paleobiogeochemistry' as he is fascinated by biological processes in deep time from the origin of life to mysterious ecosystems in Earth's earliest oceans to events that may have spawned or permitted the evolution of complex multicellular life. To find clues about ancient ecosystems, he studies molecular fossils of biological lipids (biomarkers) that can be preserved in sedimentary rocks for billions of years. Currently, he investigates the question why large, multicellular and active creatures appeared on Earth some 3.5 billion years after the origin of life.