Are we alone? Humans have been asking this question throughout history. We want to know where we came from, how we fit into the cosmos, and where we are going. We want to know whether there is life beyond the Earth and whether any of it is intelligent. In 1950, Enrico Fermi famously asked his luncheon companions “Where is everybody?”
Since that time, we have developed tools that permit us to embark on a scientific exploration to try to answer this old question. We no longer have to ask the priests and philosophers what we should believe about extraterrestrial life: we can explore and discover what’s actually out there. Our tools are getting ever better. We have discovered extremophiles in the most unexpected places on this planet and we have discovered that there really are far more planets than stars out there. We haven’t yet found life beyond Earth, but there is a vast amount of potentially-habitable real estate to explore. The 21st century will be the century in which we will find some answers to this age-old question; there are many paths we will investigate. We should better understand whether Fermi’s question really is a paradox.
As we look up and look out, we are forced to see ourselves from a cosmic perspective; a perspective that shows us as all the same, all Earthlings. This perspective is fundamental to finding a way to sustain life on Earth for the future.
Jill Tarter, SETI pioneer and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research at the SETI Institute will present.