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AstroAI @ SXSW 2024

AstroAI @ SXSW 2024

Are We Alone in the Universe

Revolutionizing Astrophysics with AI

Tuesday, March 12, 2024 from 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM, CT in Salon C of the Hilton Austin Downtown

Come visit our session: https://schedule.sxsw.com/2024/events/PP1145780

We are astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics who utilize AI to answer pressing questions in astronomy.

Questions like: Are we alone in the Universe?

One of the most exciting research topics in Astrophysics is understanding the atmospheres of exoplanets (planets around other stars), with a particular emphasis in identifying molecules that might indicate the presence of life. We call such molecules biosignatures. The search for biosignatures is an intimidating task. There are thousands of molecules that qualify as biosignatures when combined with other environmental conditions, such as the planet's density, temperature, and ultraviolet or X-ray irradiation from their host star. Current state-of-the-art techniques can only search for a handful of molecules at a time, while requiring large computing times per iteration.

With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques and initiatives such as the CfA's AstroAI, we can take the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres and the search for biosignatures to the next level. By leveraging convolutional neural networks, we are able to search exoplanet atmospheres for thousands of biosignatures. This will tell us if the exoplanet can host life as we know it, an important step on our way to answering the question, "Are we alone in the Universe?"

A close up of a red-brown planet and atmosphere with the host star shining brightly upon it. The background is space with far-away stars showing. There is an inset image highlighting the planetary atmosphere and potential biosignatures in the atmosphere.
New observations of WASP-39 b reveal a never-before-seen molecule in the atmosphere of a planet — sulfur dioxide — among other details.
Image credit: Melissa Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian