Reflections from Tycho’s Island
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe became famous for describing the “new star”, or supernova, in the sky, thereby demonstrating that the celestial heavens are not immutable. Over four hundred years later, Tycho’s island of Ven once again teemed with scientific discussion as the site of an international symposium on the History and Philosophy of Astrobiology. Hosted by the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Study at Lund University in Sweden, the conference appropriately included a tour of Brahe’s underground observatory and castle grounds to help instill an air of legacy to the discussions that followed.
Attendees represented a wide array of disciplines that represented scientific, historical, psychological, cultural, ethical, and religious perspectives on astrobiological themes. Keynote presentations included a wide historical overview by Steven Dick (National Air and Space Museum), a scientific description of extrasolar planet detection and habitability by Michael Perryman (University of Bristol), thoughts on the impact of astrobiology on society by Margaret Race (SETI Institute), a unique look at the parameter space of variables that led to technological life on Earth by Milan Ćirković (Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade), a challenge to consider the ethical status of the cosmos by Woodruff Sullivan (University of Washington), and a psychological perspective on sending messages to unknown extraterrestrial life forms by Doug Vakoch (SETI Institute). With about sixty people in attendance, including several non-scientists who came purely out of personal interest, it was a fruitful atmosphere for discussing new ideas with an intersection of topics that was certainly reminiscent of the days when Brahe walked the island.
Papers from the conference will be invited for a special issue of the journal Astrobiology on the History and Philosophy of Astrobiology, with the organizing committee at the Pufendorf Institute serving as guest editors. All in all, the conference exceeded all expectations, led to countless new ideas and connections, and set in motion a discussion of the historical and philosophical aspects within the astrobiology community.