Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate
In his memory, the Hayden Planetarium is honored to host the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, generously endowed by relatives, friends, and admirers of Isaac Asimov and his work, bringing the finest minds in the world to the Museum each year to debate pressing questions on the frontier of scientific discovery.
Phillip Leonian/New York World-Telegram & Sun
The Asimov debate is not a formal panel but is conceived as a free flowing, adversarial conversation such as what might occur in the coffee lounges of academia. Think of yourself not as a member of an audience but, rather, as an eavesdropper on the scientific process.
Past Debates: 2023-2010
Past Debates: 2009-2002
When the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006, controversy followed over this most beloved object in the solar system. Recent discoveries of icy Kuiper Belt objects and hot exoplanets have forced scientists to rethink previous classification schemes and their associated nomenclature.
Our panel will debate the whole Pluto demotion and classification among these recently discovered objects that share the same characteristics.
Planets, moons, asteroids, and comets contain natural resources such as water, minerals, and trace elements that may have survival value to visiting astronauts and economic value to life on earth. How did we learn of these materials? How would one go about mining them? Who owns these resources, if anyone? And should they be mined at all?
Our panel will weigh in on these questions and more in this year's Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate.
The 2007 Asimov Memorial Debate considered the Pioneer Anomaly.
The Pioneer mission included the probes named Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. They were the first two probes to pass through the asteroid belt and Pioneer 10 was the first to visit Jupiter while Pioneer 11 was the first to visit Saturn. Ultimately, they escaped the solar system and will continue to drift into interstellar space.
However, as they grew more distant from Earth on their way out of the solar system, scientists noticed they were slowing down when compared to their predictive trajectories. This resulted in the probes being thousands of miles closer to Earth each year. This became known as the Pioneer Anomaly.
Our panel debated the possible theories for this discrepancy in their speeds and positions. What is this force dragging on the spacecraft's acceleration? Is it caused by some unforeseen aspect of the spacecraft's design? Does it reveal that we do not yet completely understand gravity?
Our sixth debate concerned the multiverse, the notion that more than one universe exists. Our panel debated the evidence for and methods of determining that a multiverse, or a parallel universe, exists.
Our panel of experts debated the nature of planetary systems, the plethora of exoplanet data now inundating scientists, and the conditions for life on other worlds.
The nature of dark matter and dark energy—two of the most significant mysteries remaining in our understanding of the universe—was debated by our panel of experts in a debate called "The Dark Side."
For the third Asimov Debate, our panelists discussed the Big Bang. In particular, alternative models that address the earliest moments of the universe. Do these alternative theories reaffirm the Big Bang, or suggest a shift in our notions about the origin of the cosmos?
The second Asimov Memorial Debate delved into the existence of life in the universe—how to find life, where to look for life, and even who we're likely to encounter.