Monday, February 17, 2014

February 7: Five Billion Years of Solitude

We kicked off a new year of events with the help of local author, Lee Billings, who recently published his book Five Billion Years of Solitude on the search for life beyond our Solar System. The title actually refers to the expected "life span" of life on Earth and what we are going to do with our "moment in the Sun". Contrary to popular belief, life on Earth will end long before the Sun becomes a red giant (excluding anthropogenic factors) - in about 500 million years, in fact, when the carbon cycle comes to a grinding halt. Lee's talk focused on our efforts thus far to discover if we will spend our remaining time in the Universe alone. He presented up to date results from NASA's Kepler mission and discussed what exoplanet properties we can currently deduce from the data. For as much as we like to speculate about habitability, it turns out we are still a ways from being able to confidently tell if the ingredients for life are present yet. 

After the talk, audience members enjoyed the 3D wall run by undergraduates Varad and Claire, as well as an informal talk on gamma-ray bursts by Maria, a graduate student. Due to the harsh winter, only the Big Dome was open on the roof for observing and we instead brought our portable telescopes out on the plaza in front of Pupin for glimpses of Jupiter and the Moon. Thanks to Adrian, Emir, Jingjing, and Andrew for leading the stargazing charge. 

-- Summer Ash (Director of Outreach)