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David Weintraub - Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN, US

David Weintraub David Weintraub

Professor of Astronomy; Director of Undergraduate Studies; Director of Program in Communication of Science & Technology | Vanderbilt University


Expert in astrophysics who also writes about extraterrestrial life, human space travel and space colonization.





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Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go p4 Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem? How old is the universe? David Weintraub - The Potential Impact of the Discovery of Planets around Other Stars on Religion



Award-winning teacher and researcher at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee. Author of four books (Is Pluto a Planet?/2006; How Old is the Universe?/2010; Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?/2014; Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go/2018) and many dozens of professional papers.

Areas of Expertise (7)

Space colonization

Extraterrestrial Life

Mars Colonization


Space Travel


Ethics of space colonization

Accomplishments (5)

Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Arts & Science, Vanderbilt University (professional)


Fellow, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University (professional)


Templeton Foundation Award in Science & Religion course competition (professional)


Chancellor's Cup Award, given to the Vanderbilt faculty member "who has made the greatest contribution outside the classroom to undergraduate student-faculty relationships in the recent past" (professional)


Teaching Fellow, Lilly Endowment Teaching Fellows Program (professional)


Education (3)

University of California: Ph.D. 1989

University of California: M.S. 1982

Yale University: B.S. 1980

Selected Media Appearances (10)

For atheists, the idea of aliens seems real. Religious people doubt it.

Religion News Service  online


With no evidence of alien life in the universe, however, both sides are operating purely on belief, according to David Weintraub, professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University. While scientists have discovered planets that appear to be Earth-like, there is no evidence, at least for now, that life exists there.

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How Would World Religions Respond To Extraterrestrial Life?

Newsy  online


Theologians, philosophers and scientists have been having the faith vs. aliens conversation for centuries.

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Jupiter, Saturn merging in night sky, closest in centuries

AP News  online


“What is most rare is a close conjunction that occurs in our nighttime sky,” said Vanderbilt University’s David Weintraub, an astronomy professor. “I think it’s fair to say that such an event typically may occur just once in any one person’s lifetime, and I think ‘once in my lifetime’ is a pretty good test of whether something merits being labeled as rare or special.”

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Christmas Star: Rare Jupiter, Saturn conjunction illuminates link between Christ and the heavens

Tennessean  online


A planetary alignment does not provide a satisfactory answer, said David Weintraub, a physics and astronomy professor at Vanderbilt University. "It just happens to be that we'll have this nice, celestial event close to Christmas," Weintraub said in an interview. "If certain churches want to celebrate that and pretend that this is a symbol of the Christmas Star, they can certainly do that, but it almost certainly has nothing to do with the Star of Bethlehem."

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Mars Surface Mystery: Where Did All The Water Go?

International Business Times  online


David Weintraub, an astronomy professor at Vanderbilt University and author of “Life On Mars,” said that Mars has lost only about 10 to 40 percent of the water it has billions of years ago. “By using the abundances of certain important trace gasses in Mars’ atmosphere today, scientists estimate that Mars once had a global ocean with a depth of about 450 feet. On the basis of this evidence from atmospheric gasses, we know that Mars has lost 75% to 85% of the water it started with. All of that water is gone forever, lost to space. Again, I think we can state this with a great deal of confidence,” he said.

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NASA's successful Mars landing means we have to consider what to do about potential life there

NBC News  online


We have the ability to send increasingly intelligent and capable rovers to Mars. Those rovers could explore caves, drill deep cores in the polar ice caps and seek additional evidence that will either reveal the extent of native life on Mars or offer proof beyond a reasonable doubt that no Martians exist. Given that we have the technology to determine whether Mars is inhabited without placing human footprints in the Martian soil, I believe we should let InSight and other robotic landers explore Mars for us before we allow any company or country to send human explorers and colonists to Mars. Once we can answer the question of whether life exist on Mars with certainty, we will have the knowledge we need to begin to debate whether we humans have the right to set foot on Mars.

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Why Earthlings Are So Obsessed With Mars

TIME  online


In your book, you discuss the “Principle of Plenitude,” which is a lovely term, even if it’s not immediately clear what it in the world it means. What is it and how has it influenced our view of Mars? The idea emerged about 1,500 years ago that God would not waste his creative energy producing a cosmos full of planets without life on them. It takes living things to worship God, so if you’re going to have planets everywhere, you also need to populate them. There’s obviously a very religious origin to the principle of plenitude. We’ve gotten away from that to a degree, but plenitude still influences us powerfully — all we’ve done is couch it in statistics, rather than religion. The chemistry of life is common — hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, water — and we now know how common planets are. If there are so many of them orbiting so many other stars, there should certainly be life on at least some of them.

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Why robotic bees may be the next visitors to Mars

NBC News  online


Dr. David Weintraub, a Vanderbilt University astronomer who isn’t involved with the project, said the Marsbee concept made sense. “I would imagine you could learn an awful lot about the atmosphere, certainly in terms of wind patterns and circulation patterns,” he said. “It could be an incredibly cost-efficient way of learning about Mars.” Weintraub, who is the author of the forthcoming book “Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go,” said he supports the idea of sending robots to the Red Planet.

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Tolstoy Wasn’t Much of an Astronomer

Wall Street Journal  online


Great comets are as rare as successful Broadway shows. “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”—a musical based on a “70-page slice” of Leo Tolstoy ’s “War and Peace”—has been playing at New York’s Imperial Theatre since November. It may enjoy a longer run than the actual “great comet of 1812,” mainly because no great comet passed through the skies that year. The one that plays a minor role in Tolstoy’s epic was the Great Comet of 1811. Whoops.

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Could Aliens Have Souls That Need Saving?

Wall Street Journal  online


“For most denominations of Christianity,” said David Weintraub, an astronomy professor at Vanderbilt University and the author of “Religions and Extraterrestrial Life,” the possibility of life elsewhere presents “serious theological problems.” “Until now, questions about who created us and are we alone were purely theological,” he said. But now, astronomers are saying, “ ‘We’re taking over some turf that used to belong to you.’ ”

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Selected Articles (3)

Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go

Princeton University Press

David Weintraub

2018 The story of the search for life on Mars—and the moral issues confronting us as we prepare to send humans there Does life exist on Mars? The question has captivated humans for centuries, but today it has taken on new urgency. NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars orbit by the 2030s.

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High Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy and Star Formation: HETG Observations of the Pre-Main Sequence Stellar Cluster IC 348

American Astronomical Society

David Principe, David P Huenemoerder, Norbert Schulz, Joel H Kastner, David Weintraub, Thomas Preibisch

2018 We present Chandra High Energy Transmission Grating (HETG) observations of the ˜3 Myr old pre-main sequence (pre-MS) stellar cluster IC 348. With 400-500 cluster members at a distance of ˜300 pc, IC 348 is an ideal target to observe a large number of X-ray sources in a single pointing and is thus an extremely efficient use of Chandra-HETG.

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DM Ori: a young star occulted by a disturbance in its protoplanetary disk

The Astrophysical Journal

oseph E Rodriguez, Keivan G Stassun, Phillip Cargile, Benjamin J Shappee, Robert J Siverd, Joshua Pepper, Michael B Lund, Christopher S Kochanek, David James, Rudolf B Kuhn, Thomas G Beatty, B Scott Gaudi, David A Weintraub et al.

2016 In some planet formation theories, protoplanets grow gravitationally within a young star's protoplanetary disk, a signature of which may be a localized disturbance in the disk's radial and/or vertical structure. Using time-series photometric observations by the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope South project and the All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae, combined with archival observations, we present the discovery of two extended dimming events of the young star, DM Ori.

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