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UV Light and Life in the Universe

Monday, October 12, 2020 - 19:00 to 20:00
Dr. Sukrit Ranjan
CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow, Northwestern University, USA, M.I.T. SCOL Postdoctoral Fellow, MIT, USA

Abstract: The interaction of UV radiation with molecules (photochemistry) plays a key role in the surface-atmosphere system of rocky planets. In this talk, I will explore how photochemistry controls the chemical context in which life arose on Earth, and affects the molecular signposts with which we hope to detect life elsewhere. I will specifically discuss (1) photochemical insights into sulfur and nitrogen speciation in natural waters on early Earth, (2) the UV environment on planets orbiting Sunlike stars compared to M-dwarf exoplanets, and (3) the accumulation of potential biosignature gases in rocky planet atmospheres. I will connect each of these theoretical studies to empirical advances, such as the discovery of new pathways for prebiotic ribonucleotide synthesis, a possible opportunity to use exoplanets to test theories of the origin of life, and the recent discovery of phosphine on Venus. I will conclude by emphasizing the synergistic roles of experiment and theory.

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