Dimitar Sasselov: The Life of Super-Earths


dSasselov Talk by Dimitar Sasselov

Commonwealth Club, SF
Talk by Dimitar Sasselov

A super-Earth is an extrasolar planet with a mass higher than Earth’s, but substantially below the mass of the Solar System’s ice giants Uranus and Neptune, which are 15 and 17 Earth masses respectively.

Book by Dimitar Sasselov

The Life of Super-Earths

how the hunt for alien worlds and artificial cells will revolutionize life on our planet

Dimitar Sasselov will highlight a series of new groundbreaking findings and explain how what we learn in the laboratory informs our investigation of the universe, and vice versa. In the past year, we have witnessed unprecedented breakthroughs in seemingly unrelated fields — synthetic biology and exo-planetary astronomy. Sasselov believes that the discovery of a new Earth, or other world, may be in our future, although a truly “alien” life form is more likely to emerge from our planet’s natural environment or in a petri dish at a research lab.


Dimitar Sasselov has been Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University since 1998. Born in Bulgaria, he received his first Ph.D. at Sofia University in Physics, followed by a second Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, Canada in Astronomy.

As Founding Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard, Sasselov drives a cross-disciplinary initiative to bring together scientists in the physical and in the life sciences to study the transition from chemistry to life wherever it may occur in the Universe. Sasselov has been a professor at Harvard since 1998, conducting research on the many modes of interaction between radiation and matter: from the evolution of hydrogen and helium in the early universe to the study of the structure of stars, with a focus on unstable stars that pulsate regularly, allow us to calculate distances to other galaxies. His research led him to explore the nature of planets orbiting other stars, using novel techniques to find such planets, techniques that he aims to apply to find planets like Earth.

Reviewer comments on The Life of Super-Earths:

“. . . brilliant new study” —The Daily Galaxy

“As short, cogent and stimulating as John Gribbin’s Alone in the Universe, but far more optimistic. Readers should check out both.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Dimitar Sasselov once told me that ‘biology is the future of astronomy,’ a statement which amazed and intrigued me. In this new brilliant book he explains why his expanded notion of astronomy includes biology, and geology and chemistry, in its exciting search for new planets, new worlds, and new life. Sasselov is one of the great public intellectuals of the 21st century. He inspires artists, architects, philosophers and many others. It is urgent to read Sasselov.”
—Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine

“In engaging prose, Dimitar Sasselov explains how remarkable breakthroughs in astronomy are reframing one of humankind’s oldest questions—are we alone in the universe? The Life of Super-Earths provides nutrition for the lively mind.”
—Andrew H. Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University, author of Life on a Young Planet

More on Professor Sasselov and Super-Earths:

Dimitar Sasselov on TED Global
New York Times
Scientific American
NASA Blog on the Kepler Mission
• Cosmic Log Q & A on MSNBC.com with Sasselov
• The Washington Post – Newest alien planet is just the right temperature for lifeAstronomers detect first Earth-sized planets orbiting another star