Mixed Me­dia The In­terPlan­e­tary Project

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

It’s not of­ten that sci­en­tists charged with ex­plor­ing the far­thest reaches of our uni­verse get to have sit-down con­ver­sa­tions with science-fic­tion writ­ers and film­mak­ers, who, in turn, ex­plore our hu­man long­ing to seek out con­tact with what­ever other life forms may await us in deep space. But that’s what’s hap­pen­ing at 7:30 p.m. on Tues­day, July 18, at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (211 W. San Fran­cisco St.) as part of The In­terPlan­e­tary Project of the Santa Fe In­sti­tute.

Billed as “equal parts con­fer­ence, fes­ti­val, and re­search pro­gram,” the project looks at space ex­plo­ration from the van­tage point of our own trou­bled planet, with its wars, famines, po­lit­i­cal con­flicts, bi­o­log­i­cal threats, and eco­nomic re­al­i­ties. At the Len­sic talk, that means equal billing time for a plan­e­tary sci­en­tist like Lindy Elkins-Tan­ton — who is guid­ing NASA’s 2022 mis­sion to send a ro­bot or­biter to Psy­che, a mas­sive metal­lic as­ter­oid be­lieved to be the ex­posed iron core of a pro­to­planet — and Jonathan Nolan, the sci-fi screen­writer and pro­ducer be­hind In­ter­stel­lar, Me­mento, The Dark Knight, and the West­world TV series.

Other high­lights of the panel in­clude San­dra Moore Faber, an as­tro­physi­cist who makes use of Hawaii’s Keck Ob­ser­va­tory to sur­vey over 50,000 dis­tant gal­ax­ies, and Dario Robleto, a Hous­ton artist whose work re­pur­poses science ar­ti­facts (atomic glass, as­tronomer etch­ings, di­nosaur fos­sils). Robleto is a cur­rent mem­ber of the Break­through Mes­sage Project, an in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tive that seeks to un­der­stand how to com­mu­ni­cate with in­tel­li­gent be­ings be­yond Earth, should such an event take place.

Look and feel are im­por­tant too. So be­yond the typ­i­cal “chairs on a stage” set-up, Santa Fe artist-sci­en­tist Thomas Ashcraft, known for his tele­scopic work cap­tur­ing sig­nals and sounds from meso­spheric grav­ity waves and me­te­oric fire­balls, will be on hand to de­liver im­agery and am­bi­ent sound­scapes dur­ing the panel.

The pair­ing of art and science here isn’t just some sop to in­ter­dis­ci­plinar­ity. As 20th-cen­tury science fic­tion con­tin­ues to be­come 21st-cen­tury re­al­ity, the cen­tral strug­gle of our time is de­fined by the de­sires and con­flicts un­leashed by tech­nol­ogy upon hu­mans. Should it ever oc­cur, an en­counter with in­terplan­e­tary life will surely re­order our own so­ci­ety in ways that this new SFI ini­tia­tive sug­gests that we ought to con­sider right now. Tick­ets for the evening of July 18 are $5 (www.tick­etssantafe.org, 505-988-1234). Reser­va­tions are highly en­cour­aged. — Casey Sanchez

Il­lus­tra­tion of pro­posed mis­sion to send space­craft to metal­lic as­ter­oid Psy­che

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