World's 200 Top Astrobiologists Meeting this Week --"Goal is to Find Extraterrestrial Life Within Next Two Decades"
Two hundred of the world's experts in the search for life beyond our solar system are meeting this week to probe the great unanswered question of the 21st Century: Are we alone in the universe? Motivated by the rapidly increasing number of known Earth-sized planets, the increasing range of extreme conditions in which life on Earth can persist, and the progress toward a technology that will ultimately enable the search for life on exoplanets, the Vatican Observatory and the Steward Observatory are holding a major conference this week entitled The Search for Life Beyond the Solar System: Exoplanets, Biosignatures & Instruments.
Astrobiologists attending the conference include John Baross (U. Washington), Natalie Batalha (NASA Ames), Phil Hinz (UA), Markus Kasper (ESO), Lynn Rothschild (NASA Ames), Lisa Kaltenegger (MPIA, CfA), Peter Lawson (NASA JPL), Sara Seager (MIT), and Jill Tarter (SETI)
"Finding life beyond Earth is one of the great challenges of modern science and we are excited to have the world leaders in this field together in Tucson," said event co-chair Daniel Apai, assistant professor of astronomy and planetary sciences at the UA Steward Observatory, in a statement. "But reaching such an ambitious goal takes planning and time. The goal of this meeting is to discuss how we can find life among the stars within the next two decades."
José Gabriel Funes, an Argentine Jesuit priest and astronomer, and the current director of the Vatican Observatory says there is no conflict between believing in God and in the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations perhaps more evolved than humans.
"In my opinion this possibility exists," said the Reverend José Gabriel Funes, current director of the Vatican Observatory and a scientific adviser to Pope Benedict XVI, referring to life on other planets.
"How can we exclude that life has developed elsewhere," he said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. The large number of galaxies with their own planets makes this possible, he noted.
Asked if he was referring to beings similar to humans or even more evolved than humans, he said: "Certainly, in a universe this big you can't exclude this hypothesis."
"Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom. Why can't we speak of a 'brother extraterrestrial'? It would still be part of creation."
Funes, who runs the observatory that is based south of Rome and in Arizona, held out the possibility that the human race might actually be the "lost sheep" of the universe. There could be other beings "who remained in full friendship with their creator," he said.
Funes commentary is a giant step away from the historical record that includes the Inquisition, which condemned Galileo in the 17th century for insisting that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The Roman Catholic Church did not rehabilitate him until 1992.
Funes said he believed as an astronomer that the most likely explanation for the start of the universe was "the big bang," the theory that it sprang into existence from dense matter billions of years ago. But he said this was not in conflict with faith in God as creator. "God is the creator," he said. "There is a sense to creation. We are not children of an accident."
He added: "As an astronomer, I continue to believe that God is the creator of the universe and that we are not the product of something casual but children of a good father who has a project of love in mind for us."
NASA's Astrobiology Institute will broadcast a live feed of the sessions. You can learn more via the conference website: http://www.ebi2014.org/ http://www.ebi2014.org/
The Daily Galaxy via http://www.ebi2014.org/