'Shooting for the Stars'


Skip Derra

A key player in the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life will speak at Arizona State University. Simon “Pete” Worden, who is the chairman for the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and leads the spectacular Breakthrough Initiatives, will give the 2016 Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Lecture, 7 p.m., Sept. 20, in the Marston Exploration Theater on ASU’s Tempe campus. 

Worden, formerly the director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, is a recognized expert on space and science issues. He will describe some audacious plans to seek out life beyond Earth in a lecture titled “Shooting for the Stars: The Interstellar Breakthrough Initiatives.”

“Whether or not we are alone in the universe is one of the oldest and biggest of the big questions of existence,” said Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, which hosts the annual Shoemaker Lecture. “Given the ambitious goals of the Breakthrough Initiatives, we may soon know the answer.”

Announced a year ago, the Breakthrough Initiatives is a program generously funded by the philanthropist Yuri Milner to search for intelligent life outside of Earth. It consists of Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year project to actively search for extraterrestrial communications; Breakthrough Message, to study the ethical implications of sending messages into deep space; and Breakthrough Starshot a proposal to use powerful lasers to propel a fleet of tiny probes to Alpha Centauri, a nearby star system.

A target for Breakthrough Starshot could be a planet called Proxima Centuari b, an Earth-sized exoplanet that resides in the habitable zone of its host star in the Alpha Centauri system. The idea is to develop technology that will allow microchip-sized payloads to be accelerated to 20 percent the speed of light, enabling them to reach Alpha Centauri in about two decades.

“Starshot is an audacious attempt to leapfrog existing space exploration by harnessing several new technologies,” said Davies. “The prospect of human probes reaching the stars within our lifetime is breathtaking.”

Each year, the Beyond Center presents a special award to a leading scientist to honor the life and work of Eugene Shoemaker, who together with his wife Carolyn Shoemaker, pioneered research in the field of asteroid and comet impacts.

The Shoemaker Lecture is free and open to the public, but reservations are suggested. For more information, go to http://beyond.asu.edu/, or call 480-965-3240.