September 28, 2009

Aliens! Could Darwin work on the distant worlds of Galileo?

Dr Francisco Diego
Report by: Mike Dryland

Dr Francisco Diego

We were delighted that Dr Francisco Diego was able to be with us to deliver the first talk of the Flamsteed’s 2009/10 season at the start of our 10th birthday celebrations.   Francisco was the first-ever Flamsteed speaker 10 years ago, and effectively a founder-member of the Society.

For his theme Francisco talked about the amazing circumstances leading to the complexity and diversity of life here on Earth, and considered the likelihood of it all happening again elsewhere in the Universe.

With this line of thought, Francisco elegantly stitched together both of this year’s major anniversaries — 400 years since Galileo first turned his telescope toward the stars, and 150 years since Darwin took his courage in both hands and published ‘On the Origin of Species..’.

The circumstances for the development of life here are truly mind-boggling — a complex chain of events has been required starting with the right star at the right distance, continuing with the creation of our Moon and its tidal influence, and running through the appearance of living organisms and their development to the complexity and diversity we see today.

Francisco also talked about how life on Earth has so far survived the many threats which may easily have obliterated it over the millennia — how the Earth’s magnetic field has saved it from being fried by the Sun’s radiation and cosmic rays; how the Moon and Jupiter have taken hammer blows from comets and asteroids that would have extinguished life completely; and how life itself has managed to re-group and set off in new directions following the many near disasters to actually arrive.

And the chances of all this repeating elsewhere in the Universe?   Not very likely thinks Francisco.  Simple organisms maybe, but the complexity of life we see here today?  Probably not.   Mind you, it’s brave to jump to conclusions on a sample of one!   Who knows? — there could easily be life out there but “not as we know it, Jim”.

Francisco’s talk was preceded by the Society’s AGM and followed by an extra celebration — 10 years ago honorary membership of the Flamsteed was conferred on Francisco, but nothing was done to mark the fact.  On our 10th birthday we were delighted to put the matter right, and Jane Bendall made a special presentation to Francisco.  Better late than never!  Many thanks Francisco.

Photos from the evening [by Mike Dear]:

After 10 years Francisco receives his hon. membership from Jane Bendall

In his response Francisco talked about the importance of bringing astronomy to everyone and congratulated the Flamsteed for its work

After the talk and presentation, we cracked a bottle or two to launch our 10th birthday celebrations, and members gathered around to quiz Francisco on his viewpoint

Posted under: Flamsteed, Flamsteed Lecture, Meeting Report