Mountain View Voice

News - August 13, 2010

Seekers of alien life converge for MV group's SETI convention

by Daniel DeBolt

A first-of-its kind convention this weekend is hosted by Mountain View's SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which aims to appeal to the masses with a little help from the science fiction world.

SETIcon lands in Santa Clara's Hyatt Regency Friday. Scientists will talk about the latest in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and related topics. SETI, founded in 1985, has never held such a conference before, said Seth Shostak, SETI senior astronomer, KMVT volunteer and radio host. He said SETIcon will be heavier on actual science than other conventions, like Comic-Con, but just as fun.

Speakers include Mike Brown, the scientist who demoted Pluto to non-planet status, best-selling author Mary Roach, Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Isaac Asimov's daughter Robyn and Tim Russ from the Star Trek Voyager TV show.

In a SETI members-only event Friday night, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart will present his film "Rhythms of the Universe," an audio-visual presentation described as a "sonic wonder, from the Big Bang onwards through galaxy and star formation up until modern time."

Topics discussed by panels throughout the weekend include "Why Are There No Tourists from Other Worlds?" and "Which Came First — The Science or the Science Fiction?"

To be honored at a banquet Saturday night is Frank Drake, who discovered the famous Drake equation and founded SETI as a field of science. Shostak called Drake the biggest luminary in the SETI field still accessible by the public. Drake first began listening to the stars for signs of intelligent life 50 years ago and continues to work in the Mountain View SETI offices today.

Among Drake's numerous accomplishments, which include directing the famous Aracebo observatory in Puerto Rico, he worked with the late Carl Sagan to create the aluminum plaques attached to pioneer spacecraft in the early 1970s designed to provide a message to intelligent life outside of the earth's solar system.

Shostak said SETI expects upwards of a 1,000 people "from all over the place." Unfortunately for SETI, those visitors are probably still limited to those from planet earth.

The event could have been held in Mountain View, Shostak admits, but as many have complained over the years, there is no conference center here.

SETI is a collection of over 100 privately funded scientists working away in a Mountain View office building, with some of them listening for signs of alien life in radio waves from space. That was recently made easier with the installation of SETI's new Allen Telescope Array, a set of dish antennas near Redding.

In other SETI news, the non-profit operation will soon be moving from its North Whisman Road location to larger, more permanent home in Mountain View at 189 Bernardo Avenue, Shostak said.

For more information and a schedule visit www.seticon.com. Tickets start at $20 for a day pass.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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