Well, I’m on a small voyage of discovery myself as I plod along and figure out how to navigate the “back end” of this website. But while I’m doing that, it seems like there is a lot going on that is grabbing some media attention on the search for life elsewhere. All worthy of one post–or in this case–two.
My column that appeared in this past Sunday’s Chronicle Journal ( and indirectly introduced this blog) talked about Stephen Hawking’s ground breaking ( or perhaps after yesterday’s announcement, I should say, star busting) project, “Breakthrough Listen” where he combines his own money with an impressive 100 million dollars donated by Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner, to fund a vast array of powerful radio telescopes which will survey the stars of our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, to listen for what a lot of the media are describing as alien communications. ( I intensely dislike the word “alien” and the connotation it has taken on in mainstream media but more on that later) . Milner and Hawking have formed an exciting and fascinating partnership in this project and they took the world by surprise yesterday when they announced the second part of this project —” Breakthrough Starshot”. The project will fund the development of technology to send tiny nano spacecraft, no larger than a postage stamp, apparently — to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. Conventional space craft, travelling at the relative snail’s pace of tens of thousands of miles per hour, would take some 70 thousand years to reach there and as one journalist wry observed—crikie ( my word, not his )–humans could be extinct by then!
Enter Milner and Hawking—arguably one of the greatest scientific minds of our generation —with a radical and visionary plan of using powerful lasers to propel these tiny space craft using light ( apparently –the sun alone would not provide a focused enough beam ) to travel 100 millions miles per hour and potentially reaching Alpha Centauri in –gasp—-a mere 20 years!!!Meaning many of us ( most of us hopefully ) could still be alive to see those first images transmitted back of our neighbouring solar system . And to see what —or more importantly—who is there! And for those who might ask ( for all kinds of valid reasons) —why??? Both Milner and Hawking –and I believe most of us—are driven by the sheer power of exploration and our innate need to explore the world and the universe around us. Hawking says it best when he says:
“In an infinite universe, there must be other life . There is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the answer”
Given this development and the ongoing exploration of our galaxy by the Kepler mission and planned future missions, as well as robotic space probes exploring Mars ( check out the European Space Agency’s mission “ExoMars” which launched last month and will land on Mars with the specific objective of looking for biosignatures of either past of present life on the Martian surface ) it seems that the future is rushing at us in a series of waves of exploration which all hold the potential for life altering revelations. There is a tremendous amount of discussion and excitement in the scientific community but I don’t hear anything from the faith community. As Stephen Hawking says, “there is no more important question” —but he is representative of the science community ( I have no idea if he has a faith. Lots of scientists , it seems, are atheists but certainly not all. One doesn’t dictate the other) . Perhaps there is no interest from the faith community and there won’t be until there is clear, definite and incontrovertible proof of the existence of life elsewhere. But might one not want to prepare for the inevitable questions that might arise from the flock when that moment happens? Just sayin’….
I would love to hear from anyone, from any faith or belief system, who has any thoughts on this.