Graduate BerkeleyBerkeley, CA, United States

Profs & Pints Berkeley: Are We Alone?

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Tuesday, September 26 2023 5:30 PM 8:00 PM PDT

Profs and Pints Berkeley presents: “Are We Alone?” an update on the search for extraterrestrial life, with Steve Croft, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley's SETI Research Center and researcher involved with the Breakthrough Listen initiative’s search for signals from beyond.

Since ancient humans first looked up at the night sky we’ve wondered if other minds inhabit worlds beyond our own. That curiosity has intensified in recent years with our discovery that stars have their own planetary systems, billions of Earth-like planets exist within our own galaxy, and our galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions.

Could it really be the case that we’re the only inhabitants of this vast universe? How can science help us answer the question of whether we’re alone? Might we have been visited by extraterrestrials already?

Hear such questions tackled at the debut of Profs and Pints at Henry’s at the Graduate Berkeley hotel just south of UC-Berkeley’s campus. A Washington D.C.-based social enterprise devoted to democratizing access to higher learning and providing scholars with new audiences, Profs and Pints has made a name for itself in several cities by staging outstanding talks focused on astronomy and a wide range of other fields. It sees this upcoming event, its first on the West Coast, as just the beginning of its efforts to contribute to the cultural and intellectual life of the Bay Area.

Dr. Croft, the speaker, will describe the many ways in which the search for life beyond Earth is rapidly intensifying. He’ll talk about “biosignature” searches being carried out by robots sniffing the surface of Mars and by NASA’s Webb telescope as it scans the atmospheres of exoplanets. While such biosignature searches are challenging and currently can only examine a handful of targets, in recent years we’ve also seen rapid growth in the search for smart life, which involves looking for technosignatures—signs of technology regarded as a proxy for the intelligence that built it. The astronomers involved in it harness the resources of our largest telescopes, our most powerful computers, and most cutting-edge AI algorithms.

Dr. Croft will discuss recent developments from his own field, SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence). He’ll talk about how his own work involves using the 7000-ton Green Bank Telescope—the largest movable object on land—to scan thousands of stars for elusive, needle-in-a-haystack signals from alien intelligence. You’ll learn why researchers are not going to let the lack of a confirmed signal deter them from this quest, and what we'll learn even if we don't make contact with ET.

Dr. Croft also will talk about what, if anything, all of this has to do with the recent interest from Congress in UAPs--Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (the term currently used to describe what once were called UFOs.) 

Is the truth out there? Do you want to believe? (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)

Image: An edited and enhanced composite image of the Green Banks Radio Telescope and astronomical ammonia. By Glen Langston / Wikimedia Commons.