“Unless nature is perversely biased against civilizations like ours, we’re not the first one to appear.”
Adam Frank is an astrophysicist and leading expert on the evolution of stars and planets.
As a self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank is committed to showing others the beauty and power of science. This commitment fuels his work as a scholar, author, and speaker. In his new book, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth (W.W.Norton, June 2018), Frank poses big questions about alien civilizations, climate change, and what life on other worlds tells us about our own fate.
(W.W.Norton, June 2018)
“Skillfully written…. With an evenhanded approach to issues like the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the threat posed by climate change, Frank’s simple, effective narrative interlaces biology, astrophysics, population science, and more to lend a cosmic perspective on the fate of life and earth…. Engrossing readers start to finish with persuasive, smooth prose, Frank offers a new take on humanity’s place in this ‘vast and ancient metropolis of stars.’”
“Engaging... An intriguing account of the ongoing search for alien civilizations whose failure to appear may be a warning for humans to get their act together.”
“[Frank is] knowledgeable, witty, irreverent, provocative, and very entertaining.... [Light of the Stars] offers solid science and lots of fun.”
Adam Frank is also the author of About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang (Free Press, 2011) and The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate (University of California Press, 2009).
The New York Times
"We speak of “saving” the Earth as if it were a little bunny in need of help. We show images of gaunt polar bears on melting ice floes to elicit guilt and environmental action. But those images and stories blind us to the reality of this remarkable moment in Earth’s history. Our planet does not need our saving. [...] What Earth’s history does makes clear, however, is that if we don’t take the right kind of action soon the biosphere will simply move on without us, creating new versions of itself in the changing climate we’re generating now."Read More
“The universe does many things. It makes galaxies, comets, black holes, neutron stars, and a whole mess more. We’ve lately discovered that it makes a great deal of planets, but it’s not clear whether it regularly makes energy-hungry civilizations, nor is it clear whether such civilizations inevitably drive their planets into climate change. There’s lots of hope riding on our talk about building a sustainable civilization on Earth. But how do we know that’s even possible? Does anyone across the cosmos ever make it?”Read More
“We’re used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of the sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you’re only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated. Given that all direct evidence would be long gone after many millions of years, what kinds of evidence might then still exist? Could researchers find clear evidence that an ancient species built a relatively short-lived industrial civilization long before our own?”Read More
Whether discussing climate change policy, the search for aliens, or the mysterious nature of dark matter, Frank is a regular voice on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Frank co-founded the popular NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture as a place where scientists could talk about science as a force in everyday life, informing questions of religion and spirituality, human identity, and human beings’ relationships to each other and the natural world.
In the 2016 Marvel Studio’s film Doctor Strange, the titular character gets his powers from sorcery and mysticism. To understand Dr. Strange, however, you need to understand Marvel’s consistent universe of science.
“Just because the cosmic drama is large, doesn’t mean my place in it is any less significant.” Frank’s research on the final stages of evolution for stars, and his own personal experiences with death, inform a fascinating look at science and spirituality and how our place in the cosmos is an unrelenting mystery.
There is a widespread idea that science and religion are at war and will always be at war with one another. The founders of science, however, were all deeply religious men and women. Talking about science and religion in other ways besides this “warfare” illuminates science as a gateway to the human experience of the sacred.
On Earth, we are very concerned with developing a sustainable version of civilization. However, the question we can ask if we step back and take the 10,000-light-year view is: How do we know if sustainability is even possible?
Does the universe contain planets with truly sustainable civilizations? Or does every civilization that may have arisen in the cosmos last only a few centuries before it falls to the climate change it triggers? A new mathematical model illustrates how a technologically advanced population and its planet might develop together, putting climate change in a cosmic context.
Imagine if, many millions of years ago, dinosaurs drove cars through cities of mile-high buildings. A preposterous idea, right? This compelling “thought experiment,” conducted with Gavin Schmidt at NASA, poses the question: How do we really know there weren’t previous industrial civilizations on Earth that rose and fell long before human beings appeared? And, what evidence might future scientists, millions of years from now, detect to determine our own civilization existed?
The makers of the 2016 Marvel Studios blockbuster Doctor Strange wanted the fantasy film to have scientific substance. For help, they turned to Adam Frank, who discusses his role as a science consultant on the film. In the episode of the University’s Quadcast podcast, Frank discusses his role on the film.
Odds are, we aren’t the first advanced civilization in the universe. The recent discovery of exoplanets combined with a broader approach to questions of life on other planets, makes it possible to assign a new empirically-valid probability to the odds of other advanced technological civilizations.
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Rochester
Tel: (585) 275-1717