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The New Astronomy-Biology Conversation

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Astrophysicist Dimitar Sassalov isn’t just an exceedingly impressive mind when it comes to the universe and the secrets of life, he is also an extremely fun guy to listen to.  As a guest on this week’s edition of Radio Open Source, Sassalov sits down with journalist Christopher Lydon and proceeds to riff on what we can already say about these earth like planets that have been discovered in droves over the past year, now numbering in the thousands.  He gets into the connection between life on earth and how we think about life on other planets, a way of thinking about human-like figures with oddly shaped heads and large eye sockets, which the good doctor finds wrong but understandable considering the earth-centric mentality we naturally start off with.

At Harvard University, Sassalov leads a program called “Origins of Life” which takes an interdisciplinary approach to thinking about life elsewhere in the universe. Life that maybe completely different biologically, than what we have so far imagined. Or as he so eloquently puts it: “Is it a universal chemical law that biochemistries will be based on the same molecular rules as we are? Or are alternative biochemistries possible and, in fact, contingent on the environments that develop on those other planets? … Will we discover something we hadn’t imagined? Will we miss it altogether because we don’t know what we’re looking for?”

But just when you think you know what you’re going to hear based on the profile of the thus described astrophysicist with a thing for life in the universe, he throws you another curve ball – the connection with instrumental music. From classical music concertos to his youth in Bulgaria, a conversation with Dimitar Sassalov can’t be simple described as a talk about space. It is much more than that. It is a call for a public conversation, using all the talent and knowledge in different areas of research, to rethink how we’ve imagined the larger universe that everyday reveals not only new secrets, but the answers to questions that went unanswered for so long.

Highly recommend listening.

Source: Radio Open Source

Photo: Hubert Burda Media /flickr

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