Science Beyond the SciLi: Are we alone in the Universe?

It can seem like the field of science is limited to torturous problem sets in the SciLi dungeon basement. But there is awesome stuff going on in the sciences at Brown and beyond, though it can be difficult to find when you’re wasting away in the library. BlogDH presents “Science Beyond the SciLi”; so even if you’re reading this inside those concrete walls, you can see a glimmer of scientific hope.


Science isn’t a mystery novel, so here’s the punch line: we are probably not alone. There are most likely other life forms out there wondering if they are alone in the universe. Makes your midterms feel a little less important, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s back up a second. How can I make this crazy claim? Well, I went to the inaugural lecture of the Presidential Colloquium Series ThinkingOut Loud: DECIPHERING MYSTERIES OF OUR WORLD AND BEYOND (the formatting of the title might be the biggest mystery of them all). President Paxson introduced the speaker (hence “Presidential Colloquium”), John Johnson, a professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who lectured on “Searching For Life Basking in the Warmth of Other Suns.”

Johnson’s job is to search for life on other planets. But he doesn’t just sit around basking in sunlight while sending signals to aliens and waiting for them to respond (although we have done that). He researches exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than our own sun. A stellar astrophysicist by day and a planet hunter by night, Johnson finds undiscovered exoplanets and characterizes them, looking for planets that are not too hot and not too cold—ones that might be just right to harbor life. Continue Reading

You might be able to see the Northern Lights tonight


The northern U.S. is in for a treat tonight. The aurora borealis — a beautiful glow that is the product of interactions between solar energy and Earth’s magnetic field — might be visible as far south as Nebraska, and even here in Providence. Seeing the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, is generally only possible at higher latitudes, but due to particularly heavy solar activity in recent days, Providence has a fair-ish/good (see above) chance of getting nature’s greatest show tonight.

So, if you want to skip roaming from off-campus house to off-campus house for a few hours, you now have an alternative activity. Maybe the Ladd Observatory will throw a viewing party. Seriously, though: we’re in for some clear skies tonight, so look “north and lower on the horizon;” maybe you’ll be able to see that famous green glow.

Image via.