Astronomy professor talks about aliens


Astrobiology lecture by professor Christopher Taylor :Astronomy professor Christopher Taylor draws a diagram on the board during his lecture on astrobiology Thursday evening.:Chris Chiang – State Hornet

Inna Gritsak

It is not often students at Sacramento State get to hear about aliens, Martians, and extraterrestrial life at school, but at a lecture Thursday night, that was the subject of conversation.

Astronomy professor Christopher Taylor’s public lecture, “Searching for Life in a Big, Empty Universe,” explained how scientific means are used to answer the question, “Are we alone in the universe?”

Taylor’s expertise is in astrobiology, the study of the origin and evolution of life in the universe apart from Earth.

“It’s kind of interesting,” Taylor said. “I get to teach a class about aliens and get paid.”

Fourteen people attended the lecture.

Junior theater and deaf studies student Sadie Jeffries said she was disappointed more people did not attend the lecture.

“Because it’s open to the public and I know there are a lot of people interested in astronomy, there’s a lot of amateur astronomers, I thought for sure they would take advantage of at least getting to use the Amador telescope,” Jeffries said.

Originally, the lecture was supposed to be accompanied by observation of the night sky through telescopes set up on Amador Hall’s fourth floor roof. Because of cloudy weather conditions, the hands-on portion of the evening was canceled.

Not being able to observe the sky did not surprise Jeffries.

“I took the astronomy lab last year at this time and it was always hard to find a good, clear night that wasn’t obstructed by clouds,” Jeffries said.

Kavindu Dhanapala, junior physics student minoring in astronomy, said he has been waiting for almost two months for a chance to view planets and stars through the telescopes at Sac State.

“It is very disappointing,” Dhanapala said.

Nonetheless, Dhanapala said he enjoyed the lecture since extraterrestrial life fascinates him.

“It would be pretty cool to meet an alien,” Dhanapala said.

According to Taylor’s lecture, however, the probability of humans ever meeting aliens is slim.

Even though evidence of water on Mars has been discovered, all evidence claiming to find intelligent life has been discredited, Taylor said.

Taylor said the current harsh conditions on Mars prevent life from existing. But this fact does not prevent those studying astrobiology from searching for extraterrestrial life.

“(NASA) said, ‘Well OK, so we know there aren’t actual intelligent Martians going around with John Deere tractors digging canals on Mars, but what if Mars has life we can’t see?’” Taylor said.

Through the use of spacecraft and advanced technology, NASA is now searching for signs of life on Mars below the surface, Taylor said.

Those studying astrobiology are also searching for life on moons, such as Saturn’s moon Titan, which is known for its thick atmosphere, he said.

Reesey Byers, a freshman minoring in astronomy, said he believes life on other planets will be discovered in his lifetime.

“I am interested in the processes that it takes to explore the universe and what it takes to search for extraterrestrial life,” Byers said. “I think that attracts me to learning more about what’s out there and how do we find what’s out there.”

He said he is most interested in learning about the process of evolution on other planets.

“It has me curious, like, what it would take for life from another planet to evolve,” Byers said.

After the lecture, Taylor responded to questions from the audience. He also commended students for coming to the lecture even though weather conditions did not permit the use of the observatory.

“It really boosts my ego considerably,” Taylor said. “You can’t really be a professor if you don’t like to hear yourself speak. That’s kind of one of the prerequisites. So, I’m glad you guys came out and made me happy.”

Taylor said he plans to host another public observation night in mid-October.