By  Kim Zarzour
Yes, it’s true. According to David Dunlap Observatory’s astronomers, they are out there — if by UFOs, you mean Unidentified Flying Objects.
If, on the other hand, you mean space crafts from another planet manned by aliens, well, the jury’s still out on that one.
But if you’re curious to know what is possible and what is explainable in the universe, you might want to check out the lecture series being presented by the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders (DDOD).
Tomorrow, Friday, will be the third of four lectures about life elsewhere in the universe.
For Ian Shelton and his wife Tuba Koktay, both PhD astronomers, it’s a way to bring the science of extra-terrestrials “down to earth”, a continuation of the Evenings at the Observatory series they provided while they were working at the observatory, home of the largest optical telescope in Canada.
Today, Ms Koktay is a researcher and Mr. Shelton teaches astronomy at the University of Toronto and is an honorary lifetime member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. In this series, they present a scientist’s viewpoint on what is known about UFOs, extraterrestrial and other life forms.
The first lecture held Jan. 24 invited participants to bring their best evidence — testimonials, videos, anything they have that makes them wonder whether aliens exist and have visited Earth.
“People want to know whether they’re alone,” Mr. Shelton says. “They want to talk about it rather than wait around to find out whether ET is friendly or nasty.
“We try to be open-mined and honest, we don’t just dismiss, because we [scientists] don’t know everything.”
Even if the current UFO accounts can be explained, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other planets inhabited by other beings, he says.
The astronomer says he is guardedly optimistic that the universe is teeming with life, although at this point, he says, the proof isn’t there.
The holy grail, conclusive evidence of intelligent life forms, would be some kind of text in another language from a source several light-years away — not such a far-fetched idea, considering how we humans also leak our broadcasts into the universe.
What’s not to say a creature on another planet wouldn’t do the same?
New knowledge continues to accumulate, he says, pointing out smartphones were just the stuff of fantasy not too long ago. Until 15 years ago, no one knew if any planets outside our solar system existed. Since then, more than 1,000 have been confirmed.
”That’s opened up a lot of possibilities. Suddenly the universe looks promising.
“To this day, there’s a glowing light above the ocean in the maritimes that’s hard to explain. There’s lots of questions, if we just pay attention to the world. Life is full of wonders, all kinds of stuff we haven’t even imagined.”
The next lecture in the series, set for tomorrow night, will discuss how many earth-like environments are out there. The astronomers will explore what, if any, of the “exoplanets” could host life, what it would be like to visit, and whether more technology is needed to explore them.
The lecture series attracts a wide variety of people, he says, from science teachers, to religious people, to those who are simply curious. No prior knowledge of astronomy is required.
It’s meant to be a two-way dialogue, more education than entertainment, and is part of a long-standing tradition among observatory scientists to make themselves available to the public.
“We try to talk one-on-one, no pretensions,” he says. “We try very hard to drop the doctor pretense.”
Friday’s lecture drop-in will be held at Langstaff Community Centre, 155 Red Maple Rd., from 7 to 9 p.m. The fee is $30.
The final lecture in this series is set for Feb. 14 and will look at travelling to the stars. When will humans finally visit other planetary systems? How far can a human go in one lifetime?
Next month, the observatory will hold astrophotography workshops. Other series to be presented explore a variety of topics from forces of nature to astrology.
For more information, visit ddod.ca

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