Why does Hollywood always get aliens wrong?
That, and 40 more topics will be examined during SETIconII, a three-day gathering of scientists, authors and artists in Santa Clara that begins Friday.
As the question suggests, this will be no technical conference, though there will be plenty scientists on hand—and big name scientists at that.
To start, Foothill College's own "Astro Prof," Andrew Fraknoi, a member of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute's board of trustees is one of the many panelists and moderators.
"The theme is the exploration of the universe and the quest to find life among the planets and the stars," Fraknoi said, in an email announcing the conference. More grandly, SETIcon brings together "innovative scientists, science fiction authors, space and science artists, space lovers, and the curious and adventurous everywhere for a three-day public celebration and exploration of space, real science, technology, imagination, and science education," as its organizers describe it.
And there are plenty of rock stars from that realm appearing at SETIcon II:
· Frank Drake - the astronomer who undertook the first project to listen for extra-terrestrial radio messages and founded the SETI field.
· Alan Stern - principal investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto and former associate administrator for science missions at NASA.
· Robert J. Sawyer - award-winning science fiction writer who has written some of the best novels about alien contact.
· Rosaly Lopes - planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab and one of the foremost experts on volcanoes on other worlds.
· Jill Tarter - the leader of the quest to find signals from alien civilizations, from which Jodie Foster's character in the film "Contact" is based.
· Mae Jemison – astronaut aboard the Shuttle Endeavour and the first African-American woman in space. She also played Lieutenant Palmer on "Star Trek: Next Generation".
· Geoff Marcy - astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is considered the foremost planet hunter in the world today.
· Alex Filippenko - part of the team that received the 2011 Nobel Prize for discovering the "dark energy" that is speeding up the expansion of the entire universe.
· Robert Picardo - television actor who has appeared in "Star Trek: Voyager," "Stargate," "China Beach," and other programs.
· Andrew Fraknoi - astronomer at Foothill College, 2007 California Professor of the Year, and a frequent guest on radio programs explaining astronomical developments.
· David Morrison - NASA astronomer, one of the founders of the science of astrobiology, and the foremost scientist speaking out about the Doomsday 2012 myth.
· Alex Hall - the senior director of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.
· Bill Nye - the Science Guy, now the director of the Planetary Society.
· Seth Shostak - the SETI Institute's public scientist, host of the syndicated "Big Picture Science" radio program, and author of a number of books on SETI.
· Debra Fischer – a Yale University professor and the first woman in history to discover a planet around another star.
The conference features a panel about the exploration of Mars, and another from the Kepler team searching for planets around other stars. Many of the top scientists working at the SETI Institute will be there.
Special events include a Friday Night Launch Party with a sneak peek preview of the film SHUTTLE3D, and music by The Kepler Mission. Sheldon Reynolds, former lead guitarist for Earth Wind & Fire and an amateur astronomer, will perform at the On Sunday there is the opportunity to attend a Keynote Brunch with Frank Drake.
The conference (www.seticon.org) takes place at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. Tickets to individual events or for the whole conference help support the award-winning scientific and educational work of the nonprofit SETI Institute. The online registration is closed but on-site registration opens Friday at 3:30 p.m.