On Friday 7th October we were honored to have Dr. Pete Warden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Foundation and former director of Nasa Ames, in DIAS Dunsink Observatory to give a public lecture for Space Week.
The talk was titled ‘Life in the Universe and Private-Sector SPace Science Initiatives. Dr. Warden began by discussing the work of the Breakthrough Foundation, which intends to highlight and acknowledge the work of scientists by awarding the Breakthrough Prize to a select few each year. The Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the “Oscars of Science”, recognizes the world’s top scientists working in the fundamental sciences.
Dr Warden also discussed the work of the breakthrough Listen initiative which is the largest scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. He explained some of the signals that have been measured by the instruments involved in the initiative and how they are examined to determine whether or not they could be signals sent from other civilisations.
During the lecture, Dr. Warden also explained an idea of using very small chips to further examine the universe for sources of life. The idea with these small chips is that they would be so lightweight that they could be accelerated by lasers to very large velocities which would allow them to travel to much greater distances than would be possible with current spacecraft.
Dr. Warden also explained other places in the universe where life could exist in the ‘habitable zone’ around other stars. That is planets which are within a specific distance from a star where it is warm enough that water can exist as liquid water and not ice but also not so warm that the water evaporates as steam. During this discussion he also mentioned the recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, which indicates the presence of life since phosphine is primarily a compound produced by living things.
The event was a great success and Dr. Warden’s talk was thoroughly enjoyed by all.