Parliamentarians stood on Capital Hill and searched the heavens for stars last night after being told that life on another planet would be found in their lifetime.
Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt kept the amateur astronomers captivated during the first science masterclass hosted by the Parliamentary Friends of Science last night. He said the sheer number of planets in our galaxy made it unlikely that Earth was the only one to support life.
''One of the amazing things we have learned in the past five years is just how many planets there are out there - our best estimate right now is that there are more planets in the Milky Way than there are stars and there are 100 billion stars and we think there are hundreds of billions of planets,'' Professor Schmidt said.
''During my lifetime we have a very good chance of setting our telescopes on these new planetary discoveries and seeing traces of things which say there must be life in their atmosphere.''
The convenors of the Parliamentary Friends of Science, MPs Richard Marles and Karen Andrews, hope to improve the scientific understanding of their elected colleagues by regular contact with Australia's top researchers.
Mr Marles said only a dozen MPs and senators had science backgrounds. ''I think there is much work to do to improve the scientific literacy of the building and the scientific discourse,'' Mr Marles said.
''There just aren't lot of scientists in the building and that is the most significant thing … what that [climate change] debates shows is how important it is for us to be scientifically engaged.''
About 50 MPs have signed up and even significant cloud cover did not keep them away from the mini-lecture. Professor Schmidt and students from ANU set up telescopes on the roof Parliament House.