Profs and Pints Ann Arbor presents: “The Search for Alien Life,” with Oleg Gnedin, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who teaches a course on efforts to find signs of life beyond our planet.
Are we alone in the universe? Might aliens have visited Earth already? If they haven’t, why not?
Such questions have long intrigued those who gaze up at the stars, but answers based on real evidence have eluded us. That soon may change, as several major advances in astronomy have thrust the question of whether we’re alone in the universe from realm of the imagination into the realm of true scientific inquiry.
In just the past decade, for example, we have discovered over 5,000 planets outside the Solar System and estimated that most stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, hold planetary systems. That’s a lot of potential locations for other life to exist. Crucially, the James Webb Space Telescope, which already has been beaming back astonishing images of deep space, will soon begin telling us whether the other planets out there have atmospheres and whether the composition of those atmospheres reveals evidence of life.
Come to the debut of Profs and Pints at the Graduate Ann Arbor hotel for a fascinating look at what scientists know about the likelihood of intelligent life on extrasolar planets and the possibility of travel between stars. Dr. Oleg Gnedin, who will be taking us on this intellectual and interstellar journey, is an astrophysicist who researches the formation and evolution of galaxies and star clusters and teaches a course on the search for extraterrestrial life that Michigan students gravitate towards.
He'll discuss the idea that if intelligent life is present only on a tiny fraction of the planets, over billions of years Aliens should be able to visit and perhaps colonize every planet in the Milky Way, including Earth. So if Aliens exist, where are they? Seventy years ago, after creating the first sustained nuclear reaction and winning the Nobel Prize in physics, Enrico Fermi concluded that the absence of concrete evidence of Aliens on Earth stood as proof that they don’t exist. But what if they do in fact exist but cannot travel far enough to reach us? Or what if Alien civilizations have destroyed themselves before being able to develop space-travel technology?
Finally, what can we learn about our own fate from thinking about theirs? In hearing Professor Gnedin tackle such questions, you’ll know why Profs and Pints has earned a large following in Detroit, Washington D.C., and a long list of other American cities. (Advance tickets: $12. Door: $15, or $13 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later. Please allow yourself time to place any orders and get seated and settled in.)
Image: An artist’s impression of a sunset on Gliese 667 Cc, a distant planet thought to be potentially habitable. Source: European Southern Observatory / Wikimedia Commons.