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Thanks to popular Hollywood films like "E.T.," "Avatar" and "Super 8," life on other planets seems highly conceivable to people who have considered the idea that we are not alone in the universe. Jim Kasting, distinguished professor of geosciences in Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and an expert in atmospheric evolution, is one person who considers it a lot.

As a kid growing up near the space program in Huntsville, Ala., reading as much science fiction as he could get his hands on, Kasting had space exploration on his mind all the time. It influenced who he is today as well as the research he's most interested in conducting. By studying early Earth's atmosphere and the origins of oxygen in it, Kasting has become one of the foremost experts on planetary habitable zones. In his book, "How to Find a Habitable Planet," Kasting explains how his research with NASA may be able to detect worlds outside of our solar system that are suitable for sustaining life.

As a doctoral student studying atmospheric science in the late 1970s, Kasting read several papers written by American astrophysicist Michael Hart concerning atmospheric evolution. His work piqued Kasting's interest toward proving that, despite Hart's beliefs, there are habitable planets in the universe besides Earth. After completing his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan, Kasting served as a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center before joining Penn State. After conducting extensive research on the subject, he feels confident saying there are other planets in the universe able to host living organisms -- and he hopes to live to see the day when this is a proven fact.

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Category: Science