•  Cernan Earth and Space Center

    The Xtra Terrestrial Files

    Grade Level: 5th grade and up 
    Length: 45 minutes
    This multimedia planetarium program explores one of our greatest modern mysteries -- the possibility that extraterrestrial beings traveling in alien spacecraft have visited the Earth. This program explores the many aspects of this controversial subject and tries to answer the enduring question -- "is there anyone out there?" 
    The characters in The Xtra Terrestrial Files are loosely taken from the popular television series, The X-Files. In this planetarium program, agents Bolder and Gully are investigating a UFO report in northern Wisconsin. In the course of their investigation, they introduce viewers to the process by which scientists investigate such reports. One possible explanation is the auto-kinetic effect. This optical illusion, which can cause stationary points of light to appear to move, is described and demonstrated. The immensity of the universe, and the fact that billions and billions of stars exist in the universe, is described next. The mathematical equation "1 billion seconds equals 31 years" illustrates just how huge a number one billion is. 
    Our culture's historical interest in the planet Mars and the possibility of life there is described next. Strange and often warlike aliens are presented through excerpts from historic science fiction movies and Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" radio program. These classic images from the past 40 years may in part be responsible for the many stories of alien visitation and alien abduction, which coincidentally began at about the same time. 
    The logistics and difficulty of interstellar travel also is discussed. The immense distance between stars and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of traveling near the speed of light conspire to make traveling between stars an extremely complex proposition. Unless aliens can somehow overcome these apparent limitations of physics, it's unlikely that they possess the capability of visiting our planet anymore than we possess the capability of visiting theirs. Wormholes, which are often introduced as a solution to this problem in science fiction movies and TV, also are discussed. 
    The rather rare phenomena of the aurora (northern lights) and zodiacal light is discussed. Also mentioned is the Roswell incident of the 1940s. According to some people, a spaceship crashed near Roswell, N.M., and the body of an alien was recovered. Some believe that evidence of this event has been kept hidden by the U.S. government all these years. The scientific search for extraterrestrials, conducted with radio telescopes, is described next. Astronomers today are finding more and more evidence that some stars have planets orbiting them. The program describes the chances that life may exist on some of these distant worlds in space. A brief question-and-answer period follows the live portion of the presentation.