Saturday, 10 August 2013

The SETI Institute & Google


If any of you have seen the film Contact then get ready to meet the real-life Ellie Arroway. I was invited to the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence Institute, otherwise known as the SETI Institute this week. Founded by Frank Drake, the equation guy, they host regular lunchtime talks on various space themed topics. I attended the one titled "New tricks to find and study habitable exoplanets" Scientifically obtaining images of rocky planets in the habitable zone is key to detecting whether life exists outside of our solar system and how it does so. If you're wondering, the habitable zone is the zone within which conditions for life are just right, usually not too close and not too far from the star it orbits. Planets found within the habitable zone are sometimes called 'Goldilocks' planets, after the porridge from the fairy tale that is also not too hot and not too cold but, 'just right'. Yes, science is cute as well as fascinating :)

After the talk, my friends and I had a tour of the centre and were lucky enough to meet Dr. Jill Tarter. Astronomer and director of the SETI Insitute, she has spent 35 years of her life in the search for extraterrestrial life. Her work is illustrated in Dr. Carl Sagan's 1985 book 'Contact' which tells the story of Ellie Arroway, a radio astronomer also searching for extraterrestrial life. Played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie, Dr. Jill Tarter provided guidance to the actress during the making of the movie in order to ensure scientific accuracy. The real-life Ellie Arroway taught us about the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek Observatory, California that studies many areas of the sky at once,bringing us one step closer to detecting a signal from extraterrestrial technologies and discovering intelligent life off of this planet. The Earth flag, shown in the above photos is a suggestion of the flag that should be used when humans visit planets, moons and asteroids. As opposed to the American flag that is on the Moon today, the Earth flag illustrates our local neighbourhood (in space distances of course!). With the Earth, our Moon and our nearest star the Sun illustrated, the flag would make more sense to another spacefaring species. I think the flag will encourages people to think of themselves not as the nationalities of their country, but a collective group of of animals of the Homo sapiens species living on this rock that we call Earth. 

I returned to work after visiting SETI just in time for the end of the weekly Director's Colloquium talks that take place at NASA Ames Research Center.  This week, Google driverless cars were up for discussion and one was even parked outside the building! Obviously, I had to take advantage of the photo op with the futuristic technology. I can't wait for the day when they are the norm and road accidents due to human error is something of the past.

 What do you think? Are self-driving cars an obvious progression of our technologically advancing society or would you rather be behind the wheel? 


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