Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 12:56 UK

Scientists meet for alien summit

Exo-planet, which is a planet going around a star other than our Sun (Pic David Hardy)
An artists impression of the planet going around the star Vega, which the Scuba 2 instrument discovered

The origins of life in our galaxy and the search for alien life outside our solar system will be at the forefront of discussions by experts in Edinburgh.

The scientists are gathering at Edinburgh's Royal Observatory for this year's annual workshop, which runs from Wednesday until Friday.

Members of the public will also hear about some of the research in this year's public talk, 'Are We Alone?'.

There are now more than 300 planets known beyond our own Solar System.

Known as exo-planets, they are likely to be discovered with the completion of instruments such as Scuba 2, a camera to detect dust from the earliest phases of the formation of galaxies and, in the near future, the James Webb Space Telescope, an orbiting telescope to catch the first light of the universe.

'Fundamental questions'

The aim of the workshop is to gather researchers from areas including astrophysics, geophysics and biology to discuss astronomical instruments, both present and future, and laboratory based experiments studying extreme environments.

The workshop has five sessions, over three days, with key speakers in astrobiology, atmospheric physics and astrophysics, from universities across the country and several international institutions.

Professor Ian Robson, director of the STFC UK Astronomy and Technology Centre (UKATC), the national centre for astronomical technology, housed at the Royal Observatory, said: "The UK ATC is a world-leader in designing, building and delivery facility-class instruments to the world's greatest observatories, seeking answers to the most fundamental of questions regarding our universe.

"The search for life is truly one of these and so the UK ATC is very enthusiastic in taking a leading role in developing such capability."

This year's public lecture, 'Are We Alone?' will be given by Professor Monica Grady, professor of planetary and space science at the Open University.

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