SETI bioastro: SETI and exobiology exhibit plans for the Rose Center

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Sat Apr 22 2000 - 17:47:34 PDT


Hayden Planetarium Director Neil de Grasse Tyson discusses his life
as a scientist, the new Rose Center, and the importance of being humbled.

An excerpt from the interview:

Popular Science: Your program alluded to another space
show down the road, which will travel to as-yet-unknown
areas. Where would you like the next presentation to go?

Tyson: We have a bunch of ideas, though none that we are as yet
settled on. But imagine, for example, the search for life in the Universe.

There is an ocean below the ice-covered surface of Europa, one of the
moons of Jupiter. Let's go there! In the show, you would burst through
that ice layer, a couple of kilometers thick, then emerge below into a
slushy liquefied ocean. NASA has missions on the drawing boards right
now to explore what this ocean contains.

Or our destination might be Mars. We are pretty sure there is no life on
Mars, at least not on its surface. Yet all the evidence points to the fact
that Mars once had running water, and in every place we have water on
Earth we have life. Maybe Mars once had life. If that is the case, well
then we are not looking for life, we are looking for fossil remnants of
life, which itself could be quite fascinating.

The question most asked of me is: "Is there life out there?" We don't
yet know, of course, but the inventions with which we look are quite
fascinating. One method is to send radio signals in hopes of getting a
response. But it's more than likely that the first life that we find
is going to be bacterial life, what is called simple life. We can do
a whole show just on the search for life and the search for planets
that would contain life.
Right now, that's on the frontier of biology, chemistry, and
astrophysics. It is a multidisciplinary effort. I'd like to believe
that if we put on a show such as that, we'd be casting a broad net
of interest for people who are still trying to figure out what they
are going to be when they grow up. Maybe they will see our presentation
and want to become a chemist or a biologist or other type of scientist.

Another possibility we are batting around is the concept of collisions.
There's a theme: Nuclei collide in the centers of stars; thermonuclear
fusion is the collision of atomic nuclei to make energy; stars collide
in the centers of star clusters; galaxies collide in galaxy clusters;
asteroids collide with planets, making species of life extinct. We
could take a theme such as this and build stories around it that are
relevant to the Universe.

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