Letters of Intent received in 2018

LoI 2020-2026
Astrobiology 2020

Date: 2 November 2020 to 6 November 2020
Location: Vredefort Dome, South Africa
Contact: Joseph Nuth (joseph.a.nuth@nasa.gov)
Coordinating division: Division F Planetary Systems and Astrobiology
Chair of SOC: Joseph A. Nuth (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Chair of LOC: Axel Hoffman (University of Johanesburg)

 

Topics

Chemistry in Giant Molecular Clouds, Triggers of Star Formation, Nebular Chemistry, Formation of Planetary Systems, The Early Earth, When (and How) Does Life Arise?, Evolution of Life in Our Solar System and Beyond. All sessions will include relevant data from Exoplanet observations and models. Due to the location of the meeting in the largest and oldest terrestrial impact crater (the Vredefort Dome is more than 2 Billion years old and was once at least 250 km in diameter) we will include talks on the potential for evolution driven by “extinction-level” events such as large impacts or massive volcanic activity. As South Africa hosts some of the oldest rocks with traces of early life, a session on Early Earth surface processes will also be included in the Program.

 

Rationale

Astrobiology is a rapidly evolving field of study, yet the last IAU Symposium on this topic occurred in 2008 and much has happened since that meeting. One major development has been a plethora of Exoplanet observations that inform the probability of forming earth-like planets in a habitable zone, while another has been the potential for life to occur well outside of traditional habitable zones under the surfaces of ice-covered moons such as Europa and Enchiladas. The dynamics of bodies in evolving planetary systems result in planet growth, the delivery of water and organics to favorable environments and planetary migration, moon formation and planetary destruction, all of which have significant consequences for the development and sustainability of life. Formation of the organic constituents of biological systems in pre-solar clouds, in the proto-solar nebula or in planetary environments are essential steps on the path to life where significant new knowledge has emerged over the past decade.

Astrobiology 2020 will trace the pathway to life on Earth and beyond from the simple chemistry established in astrophysical environments such as GMCs and proto-stellar nebulae, through the concurrent of planetary systems and processes, from nebular collapse, planetary accretion, solar system evolution through tidal and other types of interactions, to beyond the beginnings of life as informed by studies of the very earliest terrestrial fossil record, taking into account the latest advances in all of these areas. Moreover, Astrobiology 2020 will take advantage of our location in South Africa to hold a training school for African graduate students, postdocs and teachers who may wish to learn more about this evolving field and, in the case of teachers, may wish to incorporate the latest advances into their curricula.

Commission F3 (Astrobiology) has received personal support for this symposium proposal from Drs. Corrine Charbonnel, David Soderblom and Andrej Prsa of Division G; Drs. Edwin Bergin and Thomas Millar of Division H and Commission H2 (Astrochemistry); Drs. Farid Salama and Helen Fraser of Commission B5 (Laboratory Astrophysics) and from Drs. Gonzolo Tancredi, Maria Barucci and Nader Haghighipour of Division F. We have also received the support of Drs. Kevin Govender, Prospery C. Simpemba, Alemiye Mamo and Bonaventure Okere of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development given the significant potential for this symposium to support the development of Astronomy in Africa.

Astrobiology 2020 will therefore bring together the advances in this broad, interdisciplinary field that have occurred over the last decade in Astrophysics, Chemistry, Planetary Science and the Life Sciences to illustrate both the state of current knowledge and the areas where our understanding is incomplete. It will also involve local African researchers, students and teachers who can participate in this exciting research area and who can carry their enthusiasm and new knowledge back to their students and colleagues in African universities.