EANA Budapest Blog
|View of Danube along Budapest city shores.|
I’m convinced that the EANA is run by great minds, simply because they decided to hold their 2005 workshop in Budapest, a city I’ve long wanted to see. Realistically, their decision had more to do with the fact that Hungary recently joined the EANA than any desire to please me.
Flying in the evening before the workshop began, I took a night cruise on the Danube River. Magnificent Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings were dressed up in golden lights, dotting the banks of the river like jewels in a lady’s necklace.
The next morning, I walked the busy streets of Budapest towards the Old Jewish Quarter, where the workshop was being held. The fall air was crisp, and flowers brought some vibrant color to the statues and parks along my route. I wondered what this area of the city must have been like during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Were those cracked walls due to wartime bombing, or simply the result of neglect after years of Soviet communism?
|Budapest by day overlooking the Danube.|
The workshop was held in an old cement-block building, a slight disappointment after having walked by many ornate buildings in the neighborhood currently under renovation. But the talks about astrobiology were interesting. Francois Raulin, of the French Space Agency CNES, opened the session by describing what the Huygens probe revealed about the chemistry of Titan’s atmosphere. Other presenters discussed prebiotic chemistry that could have led to the development of life on Earth, or debated the possibility that microbes could have traveled to Earth from elsewhere in the solar system. Later in the afternoon, Jolanta Galazka-Friedman of Warsaw University gave a presentation suggesting the element iron is closely linked to the evolution of human consciousness. He provided the best quote of the day, "We are all iron men."
Just when we were all tired of listening to science discussions, a string ensemble arrived to soothe our senses with music by the Hungarian composers Bartók, Farkas, and Rózsavölgyi.
The next morning we started bright and early. Well, early anyway – the sun was shining brightly outside while we were deep inside the concrete bunker, discussing the devastating effects of radiation exposure.
Before launching into a talk about impact craters and the microbes that live in them, Charles Cockell of the Open University announced that David Wynn-Williams, the astrobiologist who tragically died in 2002 when he was hit by a car while jogging, has had his name added to the IAU nomenclature list. So if all goes as planned, there soon will be a Wynn-Williams crater on Mars.
After the talks, I skipped out on the conference dinner and went to a Hungarian restaurant featuring folk musicians. The violinist was something of a diva, bowing gravely to the applause and deliberately standing in front of the cellist whenever I tried to take their picture.
The final day of the workshop was like the final days of conferences the world over: sparsely attended. The talks were as interesting as ever, though, and revolved around the concept of planetary habitability. Everything from searching for Earth-like worlds orbiting M-class stars, to global warming, to possible habitats on comets was discussed. Later, I got the opportunity to talk with Gerda Horneck of the German Aerospace Center, a true Grand Dame of space exploration. She was studying life in the universe long before astrobiology was taken seriously as a science.
I left for the airport right after the conference ended, sad to leave this exciting city when I’d seen so little of it. Hopefully EANA will chose to meet in Budapest again, giving me another chance to explore the hills of Buda and the plains of Pest. But with all the construction and renovation I saw taking place, the city will be much changed by then. Like the phoenix that adorns the city seal, Budapest seems to be rising from the ashes of its past to become a thing of great beauty and power.