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Breakthrough Discuss Streaming Live

I don’t usually reproduce news releases here, but this one is of unusual interest given that I am both a strong supporter of Breakthrough Starshot and a partisan for getting academic conferences available through live streaming. Breakthrough Discuss begins today and its sessions will be well worth your time, given the array of distinguished speakers and the tight attention to matters interstellar.

The third annual Breakthrough Discuss scientific conference (https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/events/discussconference2018), which will bring together leading astrobiologists, astronomers, engineers, and astrophysicists to advance discussion around recent discoveries of potential life in the universe and novel ideas for space exploration, will be held on Thursday, April 12, and Friday, April 13, and full sessions will be available for live viewing on YouTube.

The two days of discussions will focus on “Alien Life: Diversity in the Universe,” with sessions discussing the search for life in our solar system, possibilities for non-terrain life in the universe, as well as progress in novel space propulsion.

The conference will be live streamed on the Breakthrough Prize’s YouTube page:

Viewers are encouraged to participate virtually via a chat feature, which will be monitored by a facilitator who will feed questions into the panel discussion sessions.

Carolyn Porco, American planetary scientist and leader of the Cassini Imaging Team, and Martin Rees, British cosmologist and astrophysicist, will serve as keynote speakers.

Sessions will be chaired by Penelope Boston, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Chris McKay, planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Svetlana Berdyugina, Director of Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics, Lisa Kaltenegger, Associate Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University, Sigrid Close, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, and Zachary Manchester, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University.

WHAT: Watch the third annual Breakthrough Discuss scientific conference, which will bring together leading astronomers, engineers, astrobiologists and astrophysicists to discuss recent discoveries of potential life in the universe and novel ideas for space exploration.

WHEN: Thursday, April 12, and Friday, April 13 — PACIFIC TIME
Schedule: https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/events/discussconference2018

WHERE: Watch Live on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/breakthroughprize


{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Alex Tolley April 12, 2018, 11:21

    The schedule looks very interesting. I trust all the talks will be recorded for later viewing as well as live streaming. I see that one can send questions via email that may be selected to put to panelists.

  • Andrew Palfreyman April 12, 2018, 12:53

    Thanks a lot for the heads-up, Paul. Looks good.

  • Gary Wilson April 12, 2018, 13:20

    Thank you for the links Paul! Nice to see some biology being discussed!

  • John walker April 12, 2018, 14:12

    Thanks, Paul! The alarm I set to remind me didn’t go off, so your email saved the day!

  • Alex Tolley April 12, 2018, 16:17

    I was pleased to see 3 speakers ask for a microscope to be put on probes in the search for life.

    This looks like the type of microscope that would be used – a holographic one that works very differently from existing microscopes and is devised to detect motion as well as shape, in a volume rather than a shallow film.

    An article on its performance is here.

    • ljk April 13, 2018, 9:18

      They should have put a microscope on the Viking Mars lander $60 million biology lab. It would have answered a lot and saved us a lot of time wondering what the landers had found.

      • Alex Tolley April 13, 2018, 12:44

        The microscope technology of the 1970s would either be basic optical or electron microscope. Slide preparation is not trivial and ideally it would be used to view a culture. The magnification would have to be high (1000+ x) to view bacteria as opposed to single cell eukaryotes. Either technology would have been very heavy and difficult to automate.

        The Enceladus plume sample has to capture material without turning it to jelly, so perhaps aerogel capture. Then the sample has to be viewed directly, or cultured. My guess is direct viewing to look for bacteria or larger life.

        As mass is a premium, any scope has to be very lightweight and nothing like the optical lab scopes we have all probably used at some point.

        Despite these challenges, microscopy is really desirable. Newer technologies, with CCD cameras are the key to making this happen.

        Seeing swimming or “wriggling” exo-life would be a major publicity coup IMO, as this would be much more understandable and visceral for the general public, let alone a biologist.

    • Harry R Ray April 13, 2018, 10:14

      I have posted a comment on this subject TODAY(4/13/18). PLEASE READ IT!

  • Alex Tolley April 12, 2018, 18:26

    On day 1 panel (13;40pm) , Benner makes a very good point about life in earlier ages and what that means when looking for biosignatures in ancient eons.

  • Tony Rusi April 13, 2018, 6:07

    Very interested in Zubrin’s Dipole Drive talk! Please devote a Centauri-Dreams story to it. How is it different than @Helion_Energy’s Plasma Sail? And could you do a detailed story fleshing out how @JeffGreason would put Dust Particle Accelerators on Phobos & Deimos. And if the dust was iron nanoparticles, could the dust be collected by a decelerating @SpaceX BFR using a Magnetosphere, to be used in 3-D printers in Mars Orbit, or on the Martian Surface?

    • Paul Gilster April 13, 2018, 8:52

      Tony, I’ll be talking to both Dr. Zubrin and Dr. Greason about discussing their ideas here in the near future.

  • Harry R Ray April 13, 2018, 10:07

    This instrument(or one like it) is slated to be on the VAMP mission to expolre the clouds of Venus.

    • Alex Tolley April 13, 2018, 12:46

      Thanks, Harry. I am trying to find specs. If you have any links to the specs of the scope (looks like optical from a PR) please post.

    • Alex Tolley April 13, 2018, 12:50

      Grinspoon made a plea for exploration of the Venus clouds at the meeting. Paul Smith also offered some research experience about looking for microbes in Earth’s clouds, under the title, “Why Aren’t Clouds Green?”

  • Harry R Ray April 13, 2018, 10:18

    Paul Gilster: PICSAT is dead. Now that ASTERIA has “accomplished all of its primary mission objectives” would it be available to REPLACE PICSAT for the Beta Pictoris b campaign? If so, any chance for a lobbying effort?

    • Paul Gilster April 13, 2018, 11:07

      Don’t know yet. We’ll see.

  • ljk April 13, 2018, 11:21

    Breakthrough Discuss turns spotlight on search for life elsewhere in solar system

    by Alan Boyle on April 13, 2018 at 7:45 am

    STANFORD, Calif. — Are there microbes falling in the snows of Enceladus? Could a drone fly to biological hot spots on Titan? Is life floating in the sulfurous clouds of Venus?

    All those extraterrestrial locales — plus Mars and Europa — had their turn in the spotlight on Thursday at the third annual Breakthrough Discuss conference on Stanford University’s campus. The gathering was organized by the Breakthrough Initiatives, a program created by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and his wife Julia to spotlight future frontiers in the search for life beyond Earth.

    The program is supporting the radio-based search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, through Breakthrough Listen. It’s also backing Breakthrough Starshot, a decades-long campaign aimed at sending blizzards of beam-powered nanoprobes to the Alpha Centauri star system.

    This week’s proceedings signal that Breakthrough’s quest will focus broadly on our own solar system as well.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Jim Green, who’s due to become NASA’s chief scientist, noted that all of the concepts mentioned during the Breakthrough Discuss sessions could be valid targets for space missions. For example, the concepts being considered for a Europa lander could provide templates for a potential Enceladus lander as well.

    The cost question is where Milner and the Breakthrough Initiatives could play a role. Pete Worden, a former NASA official who leads the Breakthrough Initiatives, said support may be provided not only for a mission to Enceladus, but also for life-hunting missions to other promising solar system destinations.

    “We’re looking potentially at all those things, as public-private partnerships,” he told GeekWire.

    • Michael April 14, 2018, 7:17

      I would love to see a balloon/glider and/or sample return from Venus, the propellant can be largely made from the atmosphere. And I would love to see a lander/hopper on Ceres or even a sample return, again there is plenty of fuel building material available.

  • Alex Tolley April 13, 2018, 19:57

    Krauss and Millis just eviscerated White’s presentation. On the panel, Greason suggested that even if it worked, it wouldn’t offer much to change things.

    Zubrin’s Dipole Drive was interesting. I cannot find any papers on it yet to look at more closely. It operates both like a conventional sail, but also can thrust towards the solar wind. While he describes it as 2 parallel grids, it is really 2 electric sails with opposite charges. While he gave thrust/m^2 values, his acceleration figures were in km/s-yr (I estimate that he was getting 0.5 mm/s^2, about 3-4 orders less than g). nevertheless, it looks like an interesting idea for interplanetary flight. I look forward to reading a peer-reviewed paper. It looks like an interesting approach when coupled to beamed power.

    Les Johnson’s solar sail route map was really encouraging. Graphite sails of 10k-1 million m^2 area. This means large payloads. He also mentioned that an electric sail was being readied for a flight test.

  • Michael April 14, 2018, 7:06

    I wonder if NASA will allow Starshot 4 grams of mass on each probe sent out, the expected mass of a starshot craft. With this 4 grams a small part of the starshot concept could be tested, say the optical system or communication system or radiation repair concepts.

  • ljk April 18, 2018, 9:31

    Jason Davis • April 18, 2018

    Recap: Breakthrough Discuss 2018

    If you had a spaceship and could take it anywhere in the solar system to search for life, where would you go?

    A moderator put this question to a panel last week at Breakthrough Discuss, an annual conference devoted to life beyond Earth and the development of new propulsion technologies. This particular panel included NASA scientists and leading astrobiologists, and the answers to the question were varied: Mars, Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and a chemistry laboratory.

    At Mars, there could be life beneath the surface. On Europa and Enceladus, life might exist in the moons’ subsurface oceans. Titan has two potential harbors for life: the surface, which has methane lakes, and underground, where there’s a water ocean. And finally, right here on Earth, scientists are trying to coax life from primordial soups created in chemistry labs.

    Life might be everywhere! Or it might be nowhere. This gives the field of astrobiology an ethereal quality; despite all the possibilities, an answer on whether or not we are alone in the universe continues to slip through our fingers.

    Full recap here:


    To quote:

    Sci-fi is a helpful tool when considering some of the questions raised at Breakthrough Discuss. During a keynote speech on day two, cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees said he often tells students it is better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science. This set the stage for some talks on new forms of space propulsion, with the key question being: were some of these proposals better off left in the realm of science fiction?

    To a casual observer like me, it was hard to tell. Sonny White, a NASA engineer behind the controversial Em Drive, gave a dense presentation on a “quantum vacuum thruster” concept before being attacked by astrophysicists in the audience. Entrepreneur Ryan Weed discussed his company’s efforts to create on-demand positrons as an alternative to hard-to-store antimatter. And staunch Mars advocate Robert Zubrin presented his new “dipole drive” that harnesses the power of the solar wind.

    There were also sails: Solar sails! Laser sails! Electric sails! Of all these future sail technologies, the first to get a chance to prove its worth will be solar sailing, including, of course, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft. Les Johnson of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center gave an update on NEA Scout, the solar sail launching as a secondary payload on the Space Launch System’s first flight. Separately, Johnson told me the project is on schedule with no major problems in the way; his team has a final full-scale deployment test scheduled for April 26. Johnson also showed off a roadmap of future sail projects he hopes to oversee, and told the Breakthrough crowd he has been encouraged by the progress of electric sail concepts.

    Last year, Yuri Milner, the benefactor behind all the various Breakthrough efforts, said he was considering a private, robotic mission to Enceladus. There was no public update to that mission at the conference, but one source I spoke with said other destinations are also being considered, including Venus. Breakthrough could potentially team up with NASA on a public-private partnership in which Breakthrough funds the construction of a satellite and NASA contributes an instrument and conducts operations. However, no framework for this type of partnership currently exists.

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