Astronomical Pioneering: The Implications of Finding Other Worlds

Sunday, February 20, 2011: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
147A (Washington Convention Center )
With the recent detection of over 400 extrasolar planets, the existence of "other worlds," perhaps even other Earths, is no longer in the realm of science fiction. The study of exoplanets has rapidly moved from an activity on the fringe of astronomy to one of the highest priorities of international research teams and astronomy programs. Actual images of extrasolar planets were revealed recently for the first time, augmenting hundreds of indirect detections. The recent launch of the NASA Kepler space telescope is enabling the first statistical assessment of how common solar systems like our own really are. As we begin to characterize these "other worlds" and assess their habitability, the question of the significance and uniqueness of life on Earth will affect our society and religious world views like never before. This symposium will feature a comprehensive overview of the techniques and status of exoplanet detection, followed by reflections by scientists from several religious traditions and world views as to the impact of finding out that Earths are common, or rare. Will finding other potentially habitable planets create another "Copernican Revolution"? Will perceptions of the significance of life on Earth change when we find other Earth-like planets? How will international religious traditions embrace the discovery of life elsewhere?
Jennifer Wiseman, AAAS Science and Policy Programs
Peyton West, AAAS Science and Policy Programs
Jennifer Wiseman, AAAS Science and Policy Programs
Owen Gingerich, Harvard University
Howard A. Smith, Harvard‑Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Alone in the Universe: New Indications of Our Probable Solitude
Jennifer Wiseman, AAAS Science and Policy Programs
Uniqueness of Earth and the Significance of Life in Christian Perspectives
Nidhal Guessoum, American University of Sharjah
Islamic Views on Extrasolar Life
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