THURSDAY

Is there intelligent life in the universe? If Family Fear Factor is any indication, no. But don’t despair. There are some 10 zillion stars in the universe and, if you think about all the planets orbiting those stars, one of them certainly must support intelligent life forms. Why, then, haven’t they dropped by to say hi? Here’s my theory: The aliens arrive, see Family Fear Factor, and decide that they are really in the market for friends who don’t eat elk testicles. Of course, if you want some real science on the topic, you can check out David Grinspoon’s Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life. Grinspoon is a planetary scientist and astrobiologist, but he doesn’t let the fancy titles stand in the way of writing lively prose that is understandable even to science morons like me, who begin ululating in despair at the very sight of an equation. Grinspoon, an interesting hybrid of science geek and music nerd, is just as likely to quote Kansas as he is Kant, and he’s a veritable storehouse of info on the long history of thinking about life on other planets. I was gratified to learn, for example, that in 1735 the German mathematician Christian Wolff calculated that your average citizen of Jupiter would be exactly 13.57 feet tall. Grinspoon speaks at noon Thursday, Dec. 4, at the S. Dillon Ripley Center’s Lecture Hall, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. $15. (202) 357-3030. (Michael Little)