The phrase conjures up visions of flying saucers, insect-like aliens threatening the earth and the remains of spacemen being held at Area 54 after crashing in Roswell, New Mexico.
But the concept of life existing on other planets is far more complex, and has occupied scientists who dedicate their careers to determining where life could exist on other worlds and what it would be like.
The public will get a chance to consider if we are alone in the universe and how that inquiry can reveal insights into our own planet through a challenging and fun program beginning Saturday, Sept. 28 at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
Brilliant! Science, Extraterrestrial Life is the second series of programs based around a central scientific theme undertaken this year.
Unlike a single exhibit, Brilliant! Science offers a month-long collection of symposiums, family activities, and social events designed to educate the public about a scientific concept or issue.
The program is being produced in cooperation with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute where researchers look for evidence of life in the universe.
Though space is the focus of the Morrison Planetarium, working with SETI allows the academy to explore issues that are not a part of its normal programming, said Planetarium Director Ryan Wyatt.
“It allows us to do things that are a little different than what we normally do,” he said. “It’s a test to make connections to topics that we don’t explore ourselves. Ideas that are a little more philosophical, a little more speculative.”
But research at SETI often involves scientific disciplines used by academy researchers, according to Wyatt.
“There are wonderful connections between the SETI institute and research done at the academy,” Wyatt said.
“At SETI they often look at the origins of life on earth and an understanding of why life develops in the universe. That connects fundamentally to what our researchers do. “
Leading scientists from SETI, NASA Ames Research Center and local universities will take part in a series of Saturday morning symposiums organized by Jill Tarter, SETI Institute department chairwoman and academy fellow.
The series, titled “Eye Opening Science: Conversation and Controversy” will explore topics including what the search for life on other worlds tells us about our own planet, how soon can we expect to hear from another civilization and is looking for other habitable places in the universe necessary to our survival.
Coffee and pastries will be available during the discussions.
The first event will be held Saturday, Sept. 28 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the academy. “Earth 2.0, Where Is It? Can We Visit? will explore whether our search for exoplanets is necessary for humanity’s survival and what climate changes on other worlds can tell researchers about how to care for Earth.
Tickets are $35 per person or $25 for seniors and academy members. A series pass is $90 per person or $70 for seniors and academy members. To purchase, visit http://www.calacademy.org/brilliantscience/ or call 877-227-1831.
Speakers will include former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, David Des Marais, principal investigator for NASA Ames Research Center, Carl Pilcher, former director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and will be moderated by Tarter.
But not all of the programs will be that serious. An extraterrestrial theme will highlight the academy’s weekly NightLife gatherings for visitors 21 years of age or older.
Families can take part in hands-on activities with scientists during the Extraterrestrial Family Festival the weekend of October 12. An after-hours planetarium program and a kid friendly show “We Are Aliens” will highlight the “Penguins and Pajamas” Sleepover on Oct. 18.
What promises to be one of the most entertaining activities will take place at the Rickshaw Stop bar on Fell Street the evening of Oct. 16.
Seth Shostack, a SETI researcher who has written scientific articles, books and even has his own radio show, will speak about his exploits in “Confessions of an Alien Hunter.”
The program, referred to as “Nerd Night” is a departure from normal academy venues but will cater to a unique group, Wyatt said.
“It’s really an engaged audience,” he said “They want to engage a little more socially than a lot of visitors to the academy would have a chance to do.”
For more information on festival events and admission fees, visit: http://www.calacademy.org/brilliantscience.