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Silicon Valley Lecture Series

2019 Schedule

Wednesday, February 27, 2019, at 7 pm
Dr. Penelope Boston (NASA Ames Research Center): The Worlds Under Our Feet: Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond

Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at 7 pm
Dr. Kevin Hand (Jet Propulsion Lab): Water Worlds in the Outer Solar System

Wednesday, May 15, 2019, at 7 pm
Dr. Ross Beyer (SETI Institute): What We Have Learned about Pluto’s Large Moon Charon


Past Lectures

SVAL YouTube channel View videos of lectures (beginning with the February, 2013, lecture.)


Location for all lectures:

Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College
More information

Foothill College is just off the El Monte Road exit from Freeway 280 in Los Altos.

The lecture is co-sponsored by:

  • The Astronomical Society of the Pacific
  • The SETI Institute
  • NASA Ames Research Center
  • The Foothill College Astronomy Program

We get large crowds for these talks, so we ask people to try to arrive a little bit early to find parking. The lecture is free, but there is a charge of $3 for parking on campus and exact change is appreciated.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019, at 7 pm
Dr. Penelope Boston, NASA Ames Research Center

The Worlds Under Our Feet: Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond

New exploration indicates that caves may be more common on rocky and icy worlds in our Solar System than we have thought in the past. Caves below the Earth show us a very different planet than the familiar one we experience on the surface.  Each dark cave system has its own micro-organisms and distinctive mineral and chemical properties.  So we infer that caves on Mars and on some of the icy moons of the outer planets will also have characteristics quite different from their surfaces.  We will take a tour of the some of the most spectacular caves under the Earth and the unusual life-forms they harbor, and consider how the lessons they teach us can be applied to the exploration of the Solar System.

Dr. Penelope Boston is Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, headquartered at NASA’s Ames Research Center.  From 2002-2016, she served as Associate Director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute and Professor and Chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Dept. at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Her research areas include geo-microbiology and astrobiology in extreme environments (especially caves and mines, hot and cold deserts, high latitudes and altitudes); geological processes creating caves on other planets and moons; human life support issues in space and planetary environments; and use of robotics to assist exploration in extreme Earth and planetary environments.  She received the 2010 Lifetime Science Achievement Award from the National Speleological Society, the Caving Legend Award from the Ft. Stanton Cave Study Project, and is a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.

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