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NASA Planetary Scientist Kevin Hand to Speak About the Search for Life Beyond Earth

Mar 8, 2016, 16:37 PM by Michael Frisco


Search For Life Beyond Earth

National Geographic Explorer Searches for Clues to Alien Life in Earth’s Harshest Climates

Omaha, Neb., March 7, 2016 – Journey with astrobiologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Kevin Hand as he visits Earth’s worst environments to gain perspective on how life could exist in alien worlds under similar conditions when Omaha Performing Arts presents National Geographic Live Search for Life Beyond Earth with Kevin Hand on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., in the Kiewit Hall at the Holland Performing Arts Center.

Tickets start at $10, and are available at TicketOmaha.com, 402.345.0606 or at the Ticket Omaha Box Office inside the Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St. Hand is part of the 2015/16 National Geographic Live Speaker Series.

Hand, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is helping plan a NASA mission 600 million miles from Earth to Jupiter’s moon Europa, a planet that could sustain primitive life in a subsurface ocean. To do this, he has studied life living on the edge in the valleys of Antarctica, the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro and the depths of the oceans, Earth’s most forbidding environments.

A defining moment for Hand came as he dived more than two miles under the ocean surface and into the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, known as the Snake Pit. In utter darkness, this world is cut off from Earth’s life-sustaining chemical processes. Yet in this harsh environment, Hand witnessed thousands of shrimp, crab and other creatures thriving near hydrothermal vents blasting chemically rich fluids into the ocean. The sight of this ecosystem opened a new window into what it means for a planet to be habitable and raised the question “If life can thrive in such an alien environment on Earth, why not in similar environments in other parts of the solar system – or beyond?”

As the principal investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s “Icy Worlds” node, Hand has been featured in several documentaries on television and in an IMAX film. His work focuses on the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the solar system and involves research on the physics and chemistry of icy moons. He has served on NASA’s Science Definition Teams for the Europa Flagship mission and has worked on several instruments for space exploration, including a spectrometer that was tested in Antarctica and proposed for use on the Mars Science Lab Rover. In 2005, Hand appeared alongside director James Cameron in “Aliens of the Deep,” applying his knowledge about extraterrestrial environments to Earth’s own unexplored territories. And in the summer of 2012, Hand joined Cameron’s team on his historic Challenger Deep dive into the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on the planet. Hand has a bachelor’s from Dartmouth College and a master’s in mechanical engineering and doctorate in geological and environmental sciences, both degrees from Stanford University.