Is ET Lurking in Our Cosmic Backyard? with James Benford and Paul Davies

January 30, 2020



Liebow Auditorium (Biomedical Sciences Building, map)

UC San Diego

Free and open to the public; please RSVP here


The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination is proud to welcome James Benford ('69) and Paul Davies to UC San Diego on January 30th to discuss new ideas in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The life of Earth has been evident in our atmosphere’s spectral lines for over a billion years. The oxygen, which is due to life, can be observed over interstellar distances, thousands of light years. Over this long time, many stars have swept near our solar system and Earth. If extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) on such nearby stars sent probes to observe our ecosystem, where in the Solar System should we look? The Moon is the obvious, closest place. Another is the newly discovered class of co-orbital objects, a logical place to locate for observing Earth. These objects approach Earth very closely every year at distances much shorter than anything except our Moon. They are an ideal way for ETI to watch our world from a secure natural object that provides resources an ETI might need: materials, a firm anchor, concealment. They would likely be robotic probes, like our own Voyager and New Horizons probes. They would remain there after exhausting their energy supply. Studying the Moon and co-orbitals could be termed extraterrestrial archeology. For the Moon, we can use the photographic mapping of the Moon’s surface by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Co-orbitals have been little studied by astronomy and not at all by SETI or planetary radar observations. This discussion describes a strategy of looking for ETI artifacts. It proposes both passive and active observations by optical and radio listening, radar imaging and launching probes. We might even broadcast to them. But what if we find nothing there? That gives us a profound result: no one has come to look at the life of Earth, so the probability of ETI’s existence will be reduced. On that other hand, perhaps other civilizations are simply not as curious as we are.

James Benford is President of Microwave Sciences, Inc. in Lafayette, California, which does contracting and consulting in High Power Microwaves and space applications of such technologies.  His interests include high power systems from conceptual designs to hardware, microwave source physics, electromagnetic power beaming for space propulsion, and experimental intense particle beams. He has a PhD in Physics in plasma physics (UCSD 1969).  He is an IEEE Fellow and an EMP Fellow.  He has taught 25 courses in High power Microwaves in 9 countries.  He has written 10 books. He is the lead author of High Power Microwaves, 3rd Edition, a widely used textbook. He co-edited Starship Century, dealing with the prospect of star travel, an anthology of fact & fiction. See for papers on these topics.

Paul Davies is Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. His research spans cosmology, astrobiology and theoretical physics. He has made important contributions to quantum field theory in curved spacetime, with applications to inflationary cosmology and black holes. He was among the first to champion the possibility that microbial life could be transferred between Mars and Earth in impact ejecta. He also runs a major cancer research program funded by the National Cancer Institute. He is the author of 28 books, including most recently The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence and The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life.


Liebow Auditorium is located in the Biomedical Science Building at the School of Medicine on the UCSD campus. As there is no physical address, please see directions below.

From Interstate 5:

  • Exit La Jolla Village drive.
  • If northbound, turn LEFT at off-ramp. If southbound, turn RIGHT.
  • At the first stop light turn right onto Villa La Jolla drive and go up the hill (staying in the left lane).
  • You will pass the VA Medical Center on the right.
  • At the second stop light, drive straight ahead into the Gilman parking structure.
  • Purchase a parking permit from machine. ($1.00/hour and takes credit cards).
  • Start walking out of the parking structure to the right towards Meyers drive.
  • Cross Gilman drive and head towards the Basic Science Building.
  • Liebow Auditorium is in the Basic Science Building on the 2nd floor.


The nearest parking structure is the Gilman Parking Structure

Visitor parking passes can be purchased for $3/hour or $30/day.

Parking pay stations do not dispense change. Pay with any combination of the following:

  • Cash — $1 and $5 bills only
  • Visa, MasterCard, or American Express

Questions? Email us at