Life Among the Stars

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Where will the search for alien life outside our solar system take us?

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Less than two decades ago, wondering whether other stars really did host planets was a matter for science fiction writers rather than scientists. Today, we’ve gone from complete ignorance, to a treasure trove of ‘exoplanets’– different sized planets that orbit around other stars – thanks to innovation, persistence, and meticulous measurement. But what does this mean for the search for life beyond Earth? Adding this diversity of exoplanets spread across our galaxy, to the planets and moons in our very own solar system, only makes the search for alien life more complicated.

To find out where we should look for life, we need to ask whether a planet or moon is habitable and if it has the conditions necessary to get life started. Although we can (mostly) answer the first question, the second is harder to determine. Not only would we need to delve into a distant planet’s past, but also settle the hotly contested debate on the origin of life here on Earth? Did life on Earth start in deep sea vents as previously thought or in hot springs on land as more recent evidence seems to show?

Join us to hear from exoplanet expert Chris Tinney and origin of life researcher Martin Van Kranendonk as they share the latest findings on these fascinating questions.

Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and the Australian Institute of Physics. Supported by UNSW Science. This event is part of the UNSW x National Science Week program – head here to see the full program.



This livestream will be available on the UNSW Centre for Ideas website, Facebook and YouTube .

A link to watch the livestream will be sent on the event day to registered attendees.



For event enquiries or to discuss your access requirements, please call the Centre for Ideas on 02 9385 1000 or email

The Centre for Ideas is happy to receive phone calls via the National Relay Service. TTY users, phone 133 677, then ask for 02 9385 1000. Speak and Listen users, phone 1300 555 727 then ask for 02 9385 1000. Internet relay users, visit, then ask for 02 9385 1000.


Chris Tinney

Chris Tinney is a Professor of Astronomy at UNSW Sydney. Born in Australia and raised in Sydney, he moved to Pasadena, California, to do his PhD in Astronomy at Caltech in 1987. After a brief stint in Munich, Germany, he returned to Australia to work for 12 years at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, before moving to UNSW in 2007 to found Australia’s first research group focussed on the planets of other stars. His Exoplanetary Science at UNSW group has been involved in the discovery of over 50 exoplanets to date, and is actively engaged in pursuing studies of new, and potentially habitable planets, being discovered now by NASA’s TESS mission using his 5.4 million Veloce facility at the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

Martin Van Kranendonk

Martin Van Kranendonk is a Professor of Geology and Astrobiology at UNSW Sydney, and is the Director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology and the Big Questions Institute. Born and trained in Canada, Martin moved to Australia in 1992 to follow his passion for ancient geology, and joined UNSW in 2012. His team investigates the earliest signs of life on Earth, and the environments it inhabited more than three billion years ago. This research is used by NASA and the European Space Agency in the search for life on Mars, and for understanding the origin of life on Earth. Martin has appeared on numerous television documentaries and films around the world and is passionate about engaging people of all ages with the big questions of science.

Katrin Meissner (Chairperson)

Professor Katrin Juliane Meissner completed an engineering degree at the Ecole Centrale de Lille and a Diplôme d'Etudes Approfondies at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris VI in France. She was awarded a PhD at the Universität Bremen, Germany in 1999. In 2000, she received the Annette Barthelt Prize for outstanding research in the field of marine science. Meissner carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Victoria in Canada from 2000 to 2002 and became an Assistant Professor at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, in 2002. In 2009, she moved to UNSW Sydney. Meissner researches climate variability and transitions, including abrupt climate change events, and thresholds and feedbacks in the climate system.

Graeme Melville (Introduction)

Graeme Melville is in the astrophysics division of the School of Physics at UNSW Sydney, and is currently completing research on the atmospheres of exoplanets. He builds theoretical atmospheric profiles of exoplanets using the program Versatile Software for Transfer of Atmospheric Radiation, and tests these profiles using observational work. Previously, Graeme worked at St George Hospital, Wollongong and Macquarie Universities Physics Departments, the Department of Defence and as a science, mathematics and computing teacher in NSW High Schools.


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