IdeaFestival 2014 #1: Exoplanets & Exoplanetology – Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars – Lee Billings 2013

lee billings, exoplanets

First presentation at IF by science journalist Lee Billings @leebillings on exoplanets and exoplanetology based on his 2013 book.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said that “Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Either is terrifying.” Science writer Lee Billings explores the past and future search for life in the universe…and the profound implications this search holds for our civilization on Earth.

Key points

  • improbability of life in universe: 1 in a million chance to find yourself in a galaxy
  • infinitesimality of human life relative to age & size of universe
  • most of the universe is ’empty space, dark matter … things we don’t really understand
  • we know very little about exoplanets; very little data
  • inconvenient truth / challenge: no signal due to small sample size
  • we need a bigger mirror in space
  • how to fund telescopes for several billions of dollars?

Great question from Loren Gross (WKU Honors College, Agriculture ’15): Why spend so much money on something so unlikely if we can’t even deal with huge problems on Earth, such as Ebola, superbugs …

Billings initially framed his presentation more as a philosophical/existentialist question, but then focused more on the science, practicality, viability and feasibility of exoplanetology.

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