WTAJ Originals: Are we alone? PSU looks to build center to find out

Daily Originals

It’s the age-old question: Are we alone? Is there other life out there, somewhere in the vast universe?

“I’m not sure, I feel like there might be…” said Penn State student Katie Lawless.

“We don’t really know, but there’s gotta be out there,” said Dean Leva, another Penn State student.

Soon Penn State students may have the chance to try and answer this question.

Penn State wants to open a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center, known as a SETI Center.

So far alumni have pledged to donate $3.5 million to help make it happen.

When you hear extraterrestrial, many hallmarks of Hollywood come to mind:

“E.T. home phone…”

Astronomy Professor Jason Wright says alien life probably won’t resemble anything we’ve see on the silver screen.

“It’s definitely not going to be aliens that look like humans have puff foreheads or something like that,” said Wright.

“Much of the earth’s history…life was microbial…it was all molds and spores and microbes and amoeba’s and all of that, so we expect that most of the life in the universe will also be like that…which means we’ll have to find planets that have evidence of microbes on them,” said Wright.

It’s believed that a key breeding ground for the microbes is water.

“Today we know that the very closest stars to the earth have planets at about the right temperature for water,” said Wright. “That doesn’t mean they have water on them, but that really increases the chances.”

Wright says there’s been very limited funding worldwide for the study of SETI, and UC Berkeley is the only other university with a research center.

Penn State plans to open the center on its University Park campus, making use of some the most advanced telescopes in the world.

“It will allow us to finally train a generation of scientists who think about this problem who work on this problem,” said Wright.

Christian Gilbertson is studying astronomy…he hopes to get involved.

“I’m just really excited that this unexplored part of science is opening up and people are able to dip their toes in,” Gilbertson said.

“It is absolutely ripe for students to make their mark…and that’s really exciting,” he said.

PSU already offers a grad course on SETI, one of only two classes offered in the world, but the center would expand classes to undergrads too.

Some may feel time and money are better spent other places.

“I don’t think they’ll discover anything,” said Leva.

But Dr. Wright says to turn a blind eye to the telescope is against human nature.

“We have to look, we’re curious creatures, of all the problems in science we work on to understand the universe better, this is one of the most profound,” said Wright.

There’s no timeline for the potential construction on a new center, which aims to raise $110 million as part of a campaign.

Until then, we’ll continue to look at the sky and wonder if somewhere, perhaps in a galaxy far far away…there’s life, yet to be discovered.

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