I missed the morning speakers at TED this year, but I caught the afternoon group, who presented talks around the theme "What is our place in the universe?"
Dr. Roy Gould, an astrophysicist from the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, and Curtis Wong, principal researcher of Microsoft's Next Media Research group, kicked it off with a demonstration of the visually delightful World Wide Telescope. It's a virtual telescope that uses real images taken by the Hubble and other telescopes, knitted together seamlessly. You can create tours of the universe and share them with your pals. It'll launch online this spring at worldwidetelescope.org. Visit it now to watch a couple of short videos about it.
Next up was Stanford particle physicist Patricia Burchat who explained that the known universe appears to contain 70% dark energy, 26% dark matter, and only 4% ordinary matter. It's hard to detect particles of dark energy — its signature in lab tests is "missing energy" — but it has a power effect: it's making the universe expand faster all the time.
Our hobo and mole-man-expert friend John Hodgman was next, recounting four utterly unconvincing accounts of his encounters with aliens. The audience was roaring.
University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward, author of Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future proceeded to scare the bejesus out of everyone with tales of climate-changed mass extinctions through history and how little time we have left until humanity gets wiped out by a supervolcano, an asteroid, or rising CO2 levels. He also reported that a highly toxic gas, hydrogen sulfide, which is in undersea sediments, and which occasionally leaks into the atmosphere and causes massive species wipeouts, might have a future as an emergency medical treatment because it can be used to nearly stop mammalian metabolism without killing. He said it's a "blessing and a curse."
Thankfully, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar followed to tell us that we can all feel better if we remember to breathe, and then Kaki King played guitar.
Tomorrow, the TED Prize session will be broadcast live at 5pm PST. The winners of the TED Prize get $(removed),000 and are granted a wish to change the world. You can watch the prize session here: Link