Ruminations on other worlds

Absent Hawking still shares views on alien life at Origins Symposium

Stephen Hawking’s daughter, Lucy Hawking, presents her father’s work via prerecorded audio and slideshow. Hawking was unable to attend the Origins Symposium because of illness. (An Pham | For The State Press)
Published On:
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
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In a virtual presentation, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking discussed the possibility of building a human base on another planet and gave reasons why alien life might not be contacting the human race, during his conclusion of the Origins Symposium at Grady Gammage Auditorium on Tuesday night.

Although Hawking was originally scheduled to lecture in person, a chest infection required him to stay in a hospital in California, said Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Initiative at ASU.

However, Stephen Hawking’s daughter, Lucy Hawking, presented slides while Stephen Hawking spoke to a nearly full auditorium via a digital recording.

“We thought of a way to bring him out,” Krauss said.

The first part of Hawking’s lecture focused on space travel and how building a base on another planet could be beneficial to the human race.

“If the human race is to continue, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before,” Hawking said.

He said that although humans could solve the issue of global warming, more focus needs to be put on space travel for the future of the human race.

Hawking said the cost of space travel would be minimal compared to other costs the government has.

“Isn’t our future worth a quarter of a percent?” he asked.

Hawking also talked about what humans may find when venturing into space, such as the possibility of alien life through the theory of panspermia, which says that life in the form of DNA particles can be transmitted through space to habitable places.

“Life could spread from planet to planet or from stellar system to stellar system, carried on meteors,” he said.

Hawking said he doesn’t believe humans have encountered alien life yet for several reasons, such as alien life not being able to actually communicate with humans or their fear of our technology.

“The probably of that life developing intelligence like ours may be very low,” he said.

Hawking then discussed possible planets where bases could be held, which could be located somewhere in the Goldilocks Zone.

This zone consists of planets between Venus, which is “too hot,” and Mars, which is “too cold.” Earth, which is “just right,” is in the center, he said.

But “we can’t envision visiting them without current technology,” Hawking said.

Niranjan Kulkarni, a graduate student in the engineering school, attended the lecture and said he enjoyed listening to Lawrence Krauss and the other lectures, but he said he wished Stephen Hawking had been able to attend.

“I was hoping to see him, actually,” Kulkarni said.

He said the event was successful, though.

“There should be more of this type of thing,” Kulkarni said.

Greg Engh, a student at the University of Utah, also attended the lectures during the day, including Hawking’s.

“I am an astrophysics student, so I’ve read about all of these guys all of my life,” Engh said.

The rest of the Origins Symposium, which took place at ASU from April 3 to 6, featured lectures and panels from prominent speakers.

These included Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and science writer, and Steven Pinker, a psychologist and professor at Harvard who does research on language and cognition.

Baruch Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for finding the hepatitis B virus and creating a vaccine, was also among the notable thinkers and scientists.

Reach the reporter at reweaver@asu.edu.