An astrobiology conference has kicked off in Rotorua today giving students the opportunity to learn more about the possibility of life outside of earth and the future for mankind.
University and secondary school students from around the country will attend the conference at a reduced rate, thanks to the support of the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust.
The trust granted $2000 towards supporting student subsidies and the hire of the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside venue.
Organising committee director Haritina Mogosanu said the opportunity for young space-crazed students to attend the conference was invaluable, with guest speakers such as Dr Seth Shostak a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California.
"Dr Shostak has made outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy, searching for evidence of intelligent life elsewhere. He is the world's most famous alien hunter."
Two students attending the conference are University of Auckland's Michaela Dobson and Siân Camp.
Both are undertaking research in the Rotorua area - Dobson at Hell's Gate Geothermal Park and Camp at Rotokawa Power Station, as part of their honours degrees.
Dobson said the conference provided new postgraduate students the opportunity to talk to leaders in the field of astrobiology about their research and how it related to theirs.
"The conference gives me the chance to develop as an academic in this field. I am really excited, as there are some big-name people attending. I am passionate about hydrothermal systems and Rotorua is the ideal place to learn."
Camp said her research looked at siliceous hot spring deposits and microstromatolites (rocks which are formed by the growth of layer upon layer of micro-organisms), which are lifeforms suspected to be the same as those found on Mars.
The conference will allow her to get all of her work out into the open.
"Networking in the astrobiology community is important, as it is quite small, so being able to make links with people will make my path into the field of astrobiology easier," she said.
Mogosanu said Rotorua had a strong link to the discipline of astrobiology, because of its environment in which life can exist in extreme conditions and which helped scientists to understand how life could form anywhere else other than on earth.
"Yellowstone National Park in the United States and Rotorua in New Zealand are fundamental to research in astrobiology. We call these places analog environments, for early Earth and elsewhere – helping answer questions on the origin and evolution of life.
"We have a vested interest in geothermal areas, they help us work out how life forms elsewhere."
It is not the first-time astrobiologists have flocked to Rotorua. In 2016, budding young students had the chance to undertake an immersive experience with astrobiology and Māori culture on the Spaceward Bound programme at Rotoiti Marae.
One of these students was former John Paul College student, Marc Rigter who, after learning that evolution may have had some roots in his hometown, was magnetically pulled into the world of astrobiology and has since completed a year-long internship at NASA.
Rotorua Trust chairman Stewart Edward said the trust was proud to support the New Zealand Astrobiology Network.
He said supporting education initiatives were a key priority of the trust, and the grant showed the wide range of learning opportunities the trust supported.
"Our kaupapa is a better Rotorua for all, and the most recent round of grants are another way we are working towards achieving this."
The 2018 Australasian Astrobiology meeting runs today and tomorrow.
Rotorua Trust grants approved for May:
NZ Astrobiology Network - $2000
BOP Phillipine Friendship Society - $10,000
Department of Corrections - $3000
Empowered Learning Trust - $30,000
Jackson Park Kindergarten - $10,000
John Paul College - $500
Kaingaroa Forest School - $25,000
Linton Park Community Trust - $25,000
Mamaku Primary School - $5000
Rotorua Hospital Auxiliary - $5000
Rotorua Hospital Chaplaincy - $8000
Rotorua Multicultural Council - $4000
Rotorua Public Arts Trust - $25,000
Rotorua Young Achievers - $6500
Sulphur City Steam Rollers - $5000
Western Heights High School - $500
Young Enterprise Trust - $4000