Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Drake Deviation


The highlight of SETIcon II this past weekend was meeting Frank Drake, another one of those scientists whose resume makes me think, "What the heck have I been doing with my time? Slacker!"

Dr. Frank Drake
Frank Drake, Rock Star

Cornell and Harvard graduate, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Professor, Author of The Drake Equation and the Arecibo Message, NRAO and JPL scientist, co-founder of SETI, Trustee of the SETI Institute, Radio Astronomy pioneer, Frank Drake, along with Carl Sagan, famously co-developed the Pioneer plaque AND the Gold Records on Voyager I and II, now the furthest pieces of human hardware from Earth, and poised to leave our solar system!

By the way, he also cultivates orchids in his spare time. Whenever that could possibly be.

After his SETIcon panel on alien communication (available soon on the SETI Institute YouTube channel), Frank hung around with us riff-raff for autographs, photographs and general banter. I grinned as Jaime ascended the dais to show Dr. Drake her tattoo. So hey, would Sir Frank be weirded out... or tickled?

Jaime and Frank
Oh, he was totally tickled! Thanks to a NYC tattoo artist who has at least one space geek chromosome, Jaime's lower calf sports a pulsar map, very similar to the one on Drake's Golden Record! The map on the Voyager records defines the location of our Sun utilizing 14 pulsars of known directions *from* said Sun. The binary code (kinda hard to see the nodes in these tiny pictures, but they're there!) defines the frequency of the electromagnetic pulses... very useful timekeepers of the cosmos!

Pulsar Tattoo Jaime Green
In an unprecedented moment of whimsy that belied his advancing years, Drake whipped out his smartphone and asked Jamie if he could photograph her calf tattoo. She laughed and obliged.

He fiddled with a few buttons, then took 3 snapshots at varying distances while we laughed. One of the camera operators working the conference rushed over to capture the moment, to a crowd of amused onlookers. Three or four other people in the growing line photographed Frank photographing Jaime, who only found out later that she had been captured in the moment.

frank Drake photographs Jaime's pulsar tattoo
Hands down, funniest moment at SETIcon

I had planned to write a post about Drake and his work, but this happy oddity proved a much better opportunity to showcase what sort of scientist he is, how his personality has shaped the way he thinks, and how his work changed the way WE all think about our universe and its possibilities.

His sense of curiosity and creativity has inspired a generation, and it was fun to watch him witness how his work will live on, continuing to inspire generations after!