Are we special or are we unexceptional? For the first time in human history we stand poised to begin to truly answer this question. Extraordinary discoveries in astronomy and biology have revealed a universe filled with dynamic and endlessly diverse planetary systems, and a picture of life as a phenomenon intimately linked with the most fundamental aspects of physics. But where this really leads us is not yet clear. It's possible that we need to find a way to see past the mediocre status that Copernicus assigned to us 500 years ago, and to do that we need to come to grips with the latest scientific research from the microscopic to the cosmic.
Caleb Scharf is Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University in New York, and the author and co-author of more than 100 scientific research articles in astronomy and astrophysics. His work and writing has been featured in publications such as New Scientist, Scientific American, WIRED, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Aeon, Nautilus Magazine, Science News, Cosmos Magazine, Physics Today, and National Geographic, as well as online at sites like Space.com and Physorg.com. His textbook for undergraduate and graduate students, Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology, won the 2011 Chambliss Prize of the American Astronomical Society, and Gravity’s Engines, his new popular science book was one of New Scientist’s “10 Books to Read in 2012″ and was the basis of the BBC/Science Channel documentary, “Swallowed by a Black Hole”. The lecture is free and open to the public.