A New History of Life: Are We Really Martians?

Sunday, June 21st 2015 at 11:00 am
Sunday, June 21st 2015 at 12:30 pm

Prebiotic steps that led to the origin of life on Earth are one of the largest mysteries of science. Nearly 15 years ago, Professor Joe Kirschvink  and his student Ben Weiss (now at MIT) proved that meteorites could be launched from the surface of Mars, and travel through space to the surface of Earth, on low-temperature trajectories. Life, if it had arisen on Mars first, would have been transported easily to Earth.

In their new book, A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries About the Origins and Evolution of Life, Kirschvink and co-author Peter Ward argue that early Earth was most likely a "Waterworld" where many of the basic chemical reactions needed to form long-chain polymers would be unlikely to happen. In contrast, more recent discoveries from satellites orbiting and landing on Mars have since confirmed the existence of an ancient surface with free-flowing water, and perhaps even a north polar ocean. In particular, the volcanic gases from Tharsis would have erupted at elevations that were well into the ozone layer of the ancient Martian atmosphere, providing abundant chemical energy for early life. Mars therefore had a complete range of chemical potentials, desert environments, and free-flowing water that meet the requirements for the origin of an RNA world. If this scenario is correct, our distant ancestors were most likely "Tharsians", not just "Martians"!

Kirschvink, who will be speaking, is the Nico & Marilyn Van Wingen Professor of Geobiology at Caltech, specializing in aspects of geological and biological magnetism. He proved the existence of low-latitude glaciation during the Precambrian time and formulated the "Snowball Earth" hypothesis to explain it. He also discovered how the mineral magnetite is used as a biomagnetic compass by honeybees, homing pigeons, and mammals, and is present in the human brain. Joe received a BS in Biology and a MS in Geology from Caltech in 1975, and earned his PhD in Geobiology from Princeton in 1979. He joined the Caltech Faculty in the Division of Geological & Planetary Sciences in 1981. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and the Royal Institute of Navigation [London]. 

Ward is a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington. 

This lecture will be repeated at 4:30 p.m. at the Costa Mesa Community Center at 1845 Park Ave. Hosted by the CFI Community of Orange County


Public: $8
Students: $4
Contributing & Student Members: FREE 

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