Dozens of people, most of them older couples, gathered Saturday night in the Dublin Pub in the heart of Rehovot's scientific park to hear Prof. Daniel Zaifman, speak about the chances of life outside planet Earth. The president of the Weizmann Institue of Science wasn't the only academic who spent the evening speaking to the Rehovot public from the city's august beer halls; dozens of doctoral students and young scientists from the institute spread out across the city's nightlife scene, to discuss the theory of evolution, quantum physics, dark matter and more, as part of the city's 120th anniversary celebrations.
Throughout the universe, Zaifman told the alcohol sipping Earthlings, it is assumed that there are some 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, and if even one-tenth of these stars have planets that orbit them, and if, of these only one out of a billion planets can support some form of life, however primitive and unicellular as it may be, then we are still left with seven trillion planets on which there is life.
What Zaifman presented was a variation on the Drake Equation, which tries to examine the possibilities of alien life.
Was that the first time that the Drake Equation was heard in a Rehovot pub? If every year, some 150,000 people drink in the Irish pub, as the owner says, and if only 1 percent of them wonders, with sufficient seriousness, whether there is life outside of Earth, and if only 10 percent of these is prepared to raise the relevant subject with his inebriated colleagues, then there are still 150 people who have dared to do so.
Rehovot is, after all, a city of science, says Gili Tsabari, who owns the chain of Dublin pubs.
"Quite a number of researchers from abroad who come to the Weizmann Institute that is so close by, spend some time in this pub," he says. "In certain countries, making drinks is a science that is transferred from generation to generation. In my pub, I like to keep up this tradition."
Zaifman explained the most basic conditions necessary for the existence of life: a planet and an atmosphere with liquid water.
"Twenty-one years ago no one would have dared to give this lecture," he said. The reason is that until 1989, the existence of planets outside of the solar system was not known. However, since then, more than 400 planets have been discovered and it is reasonable to assume that many billions more exist. Today the science of discovering planets outside of the solar system is gaining momentum.
"At a depth of seven kilometers under the ocean, life exists without the sun and without air, but there is life there. The gut feeling in science today is that life is so strong that, bearing in mind the number of planets, it would be very strange if there were no life."
The crowd from the City of Science and Culture, bellies full of downed beers and pub food, seemed satisfied.
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