The new Harker Speaker Series kicked off with a bang in early March. Over 100 parents, students and faculty attended the inaugural presentation, “What Happens When E.T. Calls?” by Dr. Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute.
Shostak, senior astronomer at the Mountain View-based organization, presented a lively and entertaining exploration of the scientific hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence that captured the imagination.
Using the needle-in-a-haystack analogy, Shostak noted the visible portion of the universe is home to over ten thousand billion stars. With between 50 to 75 percent of these likely to be capable of supporting life-bearing planets, the problem is no longer one of finding a single needle, but perhaps finding one of many.
Shostak highlighted the importance of searching close to home. Even the discovery of single-celled organisms would prove revolutionary, Shostak said, almost guaranteeing the existence of higher life forms elsewhere.
Outside our solar system, our best chance of finding E.T. is simply by listening very carefully. Using computer animation, Shostak gave the audience a bird’s-eye view of the amazing new Allen Telescope Array currently being built in Northern California, near Redding. Shostak thinks it’s likely this antenna array could provide at least a preliminary answer to the question of E.T.’s existence within the next 20 years.
Shostak suggested some type of machine intelligence was as least as likely to turn up as an organic life form, but made a compelling argument that any organic alien is likely to have some of our physical characteristics as opposed to the giant insects and other monsters so popular in Hollywood films.
After observing the Q&A after the speech, Harker parent Mariko Creasman (Adam ’07; Alexander, Gr. 10) noted, “I was so proud of our Harker students; they asked excellent questions!”
Editor’s note: Harker parent John Jerney (John Nicolas, Gr. 4; Cristina, Gr. 7) was instrumental in arranging for Seth Shostak’s visit, and kindly provided this recap of the event for Harker News.