Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth

Date(s) - 01/29/19
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Northwestern University - Hughes Auditorium

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Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth


January 29, 2019 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

What can we learn from alien worlds? We humans, with our “project of civilization,” are a kind of cosmic teenager.  We have power over ourselves and the planet, but no model to follow. In his talk, Dr. Adam Frank will show how our fate can best be understood in light of the stars. Thanks to the revolutionary field of astrobiology, we have discovered that we are just one of ten billion trillion habitable planets in the Universe. Unless the laws of the universe are deeply biased against life and intelligence, it’s highly improbable that we are the first project of civilization in cosmic history. What then can we learn from the others who have almost certainly existed?

For centuries, human beings have looked to the night sky and wondered what—and who—is really out there.  Adam will show how the search for alien life gives us an unexpected—and much needed—change in how we talk about pressing concerns here on Earth. Using the latest research on other worlds and the possibilities for other civilizations, the talk reveals what the new science of “astrobiology” can tell us about climate change and our future on Earth.

Unpacking the exploration of our solar system and beyond, Adam will show how we have already learned universal “laws of planets.” With this new view, we can tell how life (including the intelligent kind) and its host worlds can evolve together. From microbes generating Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere to the discovery of Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect, we can now lay out the contours of what happened here and what may happen elsewhere. With this “10,000 light-year” view, we gain a new story of our future on a changing Earth. It’s a narrative rich with both hope and caution.

Adam Frank fell in love with astronomy when he was 5 years old and the affair has never cooled. Now a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, he studies the processes that shape the formation and death of stars and has become a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun. Adam is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and he heads a research group that is developing new tools for simulating the cosmos.

His commitment to showing others the beauty and power of science has led him to a second career as a popular writer and speaker on the subject. He is the co-founder of NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog as well as a regular on-air commentator for All Things Considered. He also contributes occasionally to The New York Times. Adam is the author of three books. The most recent, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, explores a new vision for climate change and the human future by placing them both in their proper “astrobiological” context. Climate change may likely be an expected consequence of any civilization on any planet developing an advanced industrial civilization. Adam’s first book is titled, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Religion and Science Debate, and his second is About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang. He is also the author of a textbook Astronomy: At Play in the Cosmos.