Friday, July 20, 2007

Contact Night

This was the last day of the conference. The SETI talks were entertaining as usual. It's seen as a fringe topic, but it's really interesting the way most people present it. I really like Seth and Jill - the senior SETI folks. There's a neat new interferrometer being built in northern cali called the ATA. I'm always impressed by what the radio people can do. Radio people amplify light waves instead of counting photons like us optical people. They're on the older side of the quantum "wave-particle duality"... With recievers instead of CCD's, you can automatically get wavelength, polarization and phase information from the signal coming off the reciever. In many ways, radio telescopes are way more advanced - they almost always do interferrometric spectro-polarimetry. They're typically arrays (interferrometers) that simultaneously record many wavelengths (spectro-) and wave directions (-polarimetry). At least, that's what it seems like. The conference closed by showing Contact and having a "discussion session" before. There were lots of neat stories about Carl Sagan's life and little things about how the movie related to the actual SETI program. Hollywood hijacked the ending, but I always enjoyed the issues the movie made me think about. There was an interesting talk by an outreach guy earlier in the day. He had spent a month teaching "astrobiology" to monks in India. They were really responsive to western science, enjoyed physics and astronomy, but they didn't really seem too excited about life on other planets. We're all one, and life is part of the universe. They weren't too interested in finding life elsewhere because it is assumed be there, and we're all part of it anyways. Interesting perspective. "If it is just us, seems like an awful waste of space".


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