SETI Talks

Tuesday, March 27 2018 - 7:00 am, PDT

Roving on Mars: Revving up for Future Exploration of the Red Planet

Janice Bishop, Ginny Gulick, Pablo Sobron
SETI Institute

Orbiters, followed by rovers sent to Mars, have yielded a dramatic increase in knowledge about Mars over the past decade. Today thanks to several years of data collected in situ and remotely we have a better understanding of its geology and habitability potential. Three SETI Institute planetary scientists who have dedicated their career to the study of the red planet will tell us what we have learned from those studies, and what the next steps are in the exploration of Mars with the next generation of rovers. Janice Bishop will introduce the candidate landing sites for upcoming martian rovers. She will focus on the mineralogy determined from the CRISM spectrometer at Mars and what that can tell us about Mars’ early environment. Ginny Gulick will describe the fluvial morphology/water history of these sites as seen by the HiRISE and CTX cameras. Finally, Pablo Sobron will address the instruments scheduled for the Mars2020 and ExoMars rovers and how SuperCam, Sherlock and the ExoMars Raman/LIBS instrument will be used to explore mineralogy and organics at the future landing sites.

janice bishopDr. Janice Bishop is a chemist and planetary scientist at the SETI Institute who explores the planet Mars using reflectance spectroscopy at visible and infrared wavelengths. Her investigations of CRISM data of Mars are revealing clays and sulfates in the ancient rocks that document the geochemical environment and climate at the time the minerals formed. Dr. Bishop studies the spectral fingerprints of minerals and rocks in the lab in order to generate a spectral library for identification of these in the Martian data. Her research also involves collecting and studying Mars analog rocks and soils at a variety of locations including volcanic islands, cold deserts, hydrothermal regions, acidic aqueous sites, and meteorites which are the only Martian samples available on Earth to date.

Virginia GulickDr. Ginny Gulick is a Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute, who examines erosional features on Mars, looking for the tell-tale signs of running water. Ginny is part of the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) team that directs the high resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), still busy snapping pictures of this alien landscape. In addition to these research efforts, Ginny is heavily into education. She has led the development of a web-based, image target suggestion tool which will allow anyone (especially students) to offer their opinions as to which martian features should be photographed with the MRO.

PabloDr. Pablo Sobron is a research scientist at the SETI Institute who has strong interests in robotic space exploration and comparative analogue science - the study of places on Earth that are similar to environments on other planets and moons. Pablo received his Ph.D in Physics from the University of Valladolid, Spain, in 2008. To date, he has lead or collaborated on over 20 projects focused on the development of instruments and data processing tools for missions to explore the Solar System, and on fundamental research. These projects have been sponsored by the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and NASA, among others.


NOTE: Due to the popularity of the SETI Talks events, tickets are often sold out. If you register to attend, then realize you will be unable to come, please let us know as we will then be able to open up the seats for others. You can email us at Thank you!

SETI Talks are held at the SRI Conference Center at 301 Ravenswood Avenue. Please enter from Middlefield Road and follow the signs.

Thursday, April 19 2018 - 7:00 am, PDT

What Are We Protecting Mars From — And Why Do We Bother?

John Rummel, Robert Zubrin
SETI Institute and Lockheed Martin Astronautics

Mars, the small, cold fourth rock from the Sun, is being given serious consideration by 21st century explorers. Entrepreneur Elon Musk has ambitious plans to send humans to the Red Planet within seven years (and bring them back again); NASA has flown both rovers and landers; and NASA, the European Space Agency, and China have announced plans to each add a rover to the mix in 2020. Even India has orbited Mars, and others such as the UAE are developing their own orbiters. The planned 2020 rovers are part of a strategy that will include bringing samples back from Mars’ surface to Earth.

NASA’s Planetary Protection Office was created to “promote a responsible exploration of the solar system by implementing and developing efforts that protect the science, explorers, environments, and Earth.” This has been the agency’s policy, reflecting the non-contamination provisions of the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Now, some scientists question the need for restrictive contamination guidelines, arguing that new exploration, and in particular a direct search for life in the best places on the Red Planet, is being impeded. Is planetary protection slowing down exploration, and the search for life beyond Earth? Do we have the right to send robotic machinery, or even people, to Mars without giving biologists a chance study it, and look for life? What if that life is hidden underground from view, and requires humans to find it?

In April’s SETI Talk, Robert Zubrin, president and founder of the Mars Society, and John Rummel, former NASA Planetary Officer and currently a Senior Scientist with the SETI Institute, will participate in an animated (and lively!) discussion on these issues, moderated by Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer.

Dr. John Rummel is a Senior Scientist with the SETI Institute, and chairs its Scientific Advisory Board. He is the former Chair of COSPAR's Panel on Planetary Protection. Rummel has previously worked at NASA Headquarters as NASA's Senior Scientist for Astrobiology and as the Planetary Protection Officer. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1990), the recipient of the Life Sciences Award from the International Academy of Astronautics (2005), and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Performance Award in 2008.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, formerly a staff engineer at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, is now president of his own company, Pioneer Astronautics. He holds masters degrees in aeronautics and astronautics, as well as a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Washington. He is a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and former Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Space Society and the founder of the Mars Society; an international organization dedicated to furthering the exploration and settlement of Mars by both public and private means.

Wednesday, May 23 2018 - 7:00 am, PDT

2001: A Space Odyssey at 50. HAL's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality

David Stork

Along with celebrating 50 years of software engineering, we can also celebrate the premiere of one of the most famous science fiction movies in history, 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the central characters in the movie was the supercomputer HAL, the most powerful computer imagined at that time. Possessed knowledge superior to that of a human, HAL controlled the spaceship, found solutions to the most complex problems, played chess with the astronauts, and served them continuously. Then something went wrong. Why?  Was it a bug in the system, or a problem intrinsic to AI? This is the core question.

50 years later, we might frame the questions differently: Would it be possible to design a computer today that could reach or outreach HAL’s capabilities? Can today’s software do what HAL did? What are the ethical questions and dangers of AI in such a context?

In this interactive talk Dr. David Stork will discuss these questions and explore the ethical concerns and potential deep dangers of artificial intelligence.

Dr. David G. Stork works in pattern recognition, machine learning, computer vision and computational sensing and imaging and is a pioneer in the application of rigorous computer image analysis to problems in the history and interpretation of fine art. He is a graduate in physics from MIT and the University of Maryland and has held faculty positions in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Electrical Engineer, Statistics, Neuroscience, Psychology and Art and Art History variously at Wellesley and Swarthmore Colleges and Clark, Boston and Stanford Universities. Dr. Stork is a Fellow of IEEE, the Optical Society of America, SPIE, the International Association for Pattern Recognition, the International Academy, Research and Industry Association, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, and a Senior Member of the Association for Computing Machinery. He is the editor of “HAL’s Legacy, 2001’s Computer as Dream and Reality” which reflects upon science fiction's most famous computer and explores the relationship between science fantasy and technological fact.