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and co-host Suffolk
County Community College,
are pleased to present a free, virtual lecture by Dr. Heather Graham
from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

search for life, and for signs of life, beyond our own planet
confronts us with myriad challenges—technical, analytical and
epistemological. Current strategies for detecting life rely mainly on
the identification of well-established and widely accepted features
associated with contemporary life. But how do we search for signs of
life that may have an unknowable, unfamiliar biochemistry? As we
explore farther out in the solar system where a common heritage with
Earth is less likely, it becomes more necessary to design life
detection approaches based on fundamental features and mechanistic
models of biological systems. It also becomes more imperative to
incorporate our knowledge of the abiotic chemical, physical and
geologic processes that provide environmental context for our
observations. In this discussion, Dr. Graham will explore guiding
principles for designing a life detection framework that avoids the
overuse of analogy and incorporates the limits of parsimony when
assessing biosignatures. We will consider methods for extracting the
meaning from the vast array of data obtained via planetary
explorations and from such missions as OSIRIS-Rex which, in
September, 2023, returned samples from Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid.
From early Earth to the asteroid Bennu, clues for how to search for
life span from deep time and appear throughout our solar system.

Heather Graham is an organic geochemist who leads the Agnostic
Biosignature Collective at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in
Maryland. They served as the Deputy Principal Investigator for the
Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures and was a founding member of
the Network for Life Detection, a NASA funded Research Coordination
Network. Dr. Graham’s research concerns span exploration of abiotic
organic systems preserved in primordial extraterrestrial materials,
as well as novel technologies and techniques for detecting life. Dr.
Graham is a member of the OSIRIS-Rex science team and the Mars
Science Laboratory “Curiosity” Rover team. Dr. Graham also works
on reconstruction of terrestrial environments in Earth’s distant
past in order to understand biosignature preservation and critical
evolutionary innovations. Dr. Graham earned a Ph.D., in Geosciences
and Biogeochemistry from Pennsylvania State University, and an A.B.
in Chemistry from Occidental College.

Observatory extends its deepest thanks to Dr. Graham for generously
taking the time to share her expertise and to co-host Suffolk County
Community College for its kind collaboration

(HO), a 501(c)(3) New York State nonprofit, has served the community
since 2005. Its mission: to foster interest in science, particularly
astronomy, through educational programs. Lectures, star parties,
portable planetarium shows and other events are held frequently and
often in collaboration with other nonprofit organizations. HO has an
observatory in East Hampton that it is endeavoring to restore and to
make accessible (in-person and remotely) to students, researchers,
educators and the general public. Hamptons Observatory offers all of
its public programs free-of-charge (although donations are much
appreciated) so that everyone can learn about and enjoy the wonders
of their universe. Visit
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