Two film-makers from Sechelt are off to explore the heavens in search of Earth's twin — a planet capable of supporting life.
No, they are not becoming astronauts, but they are flying to San Francisco this spring and to Hawaii this summer to interview scientists searching with the infinitesimally accurate Kepler space telescope.
Jerry and Bette Thompson will be working on a documentary by Terry McKeown intended for the CBC production, The Nature of Things. The title is The Goldilocks Zone since it describes the search for a planet that is just right for supporting life, not too far from its sun, not too close. The research is part of the NASA Discovery Program and all of the extrasolar planets detected so far are giant planets, mostly the size of Jupiter and bigger. Kepler is poised to find planets 30 to 600 times less massive than Jupiter.
Although this current project is an idea pitched by McKeown, Jerry is no stranger to producing and directing his own documentaries. His career goes back 20 years as a network news correspondent and a film producer for CBC's The National, The Journal and the Fifth Estate.
Bette is new to film, but she jumped into her husband's business as a producer when he left the CBC in the 1990s to work freelance. She takes care of the business end of their company, Raincoast Storylines, and does the research for the Gemini-nominated docs.
Jerry has always been known as "the great explainer" in his television broadcasting career, especially on themes of geography, science and nature. Explain "stumpage" to the viewers, said his employers on one occasion, and, with research, he managed to give a user-friendly explanation that followed trees from the forest to the mills.
"My father was a nuclear physicist," he said, and he would have gone that route himself except for a dislike of math.
His latest enthusiasm is writing and he has authored a best-selling book, Cascadia's Fault that looks at the Cascadia (a bioregion in the Pacific northwest of North America) Subduction Zone, a crack in the earth's crust located about 50 km offshore, running from the tip of Vancouver Island to northern California.
Through a series of serendipitous meetings in which his film proposal about earthquakes turned into a book, the publisher, Harper Collins, scheduled the book's launch for June 2011. In March, Japan was rocked by a quake and a tsunami, causing Jerry to scramble and hastily write a new introduction. The book has recently been re-released with an entirely new chapter that talks about the lessons learned from the Japan quake.
"It was 20 to 30 times larger than the Japanese expected," he said, adding evidence shows that these quakes happen at 1,000-year cycles. "But it's not a fear book,. We're not all going to die."
His book was timely and he hopes that their Goldilocks Zone project will also be timely with scientists actually experiencing a eureka moment while the filming takes place.
"Of course if that happens we'll be scrambling again," he said, laughing.