There’s no creationism news out there, but that’s not a problem for us. We’ll talk about SETI — the search for extraterrestrial intelligence .
The creationists are all opposed to SETI, and you can probably guess why. They’re bound by their belief that life on Earth is unique, and the whole universe was created (or designed) just for us. They tremble at the thought that one day, perhaps soon, SETI will discover life elsewhere.
We’ve posted about their attitudes before. See ICR Opposes Godless Evolutionary SETI Funding, and ICR Flat-Out Predicts: “No Alien Life Exists”. As for ol’ Hambo, see Ken Ham: Geocentric Universe, No Aliens.
The Discoveroids — who claim to be a science outfit — are also opposed. See Casey: There’s No Alien Life Out There, and most recently Discovery Institute Opines on Alien Intelligence (Earth is unique, so probably there’s nobody out there).
Our own views are of limited interest, but we post about them from time to time. See What Are We Learning from SETI?, in which we bored you with our own speculations about the Fermi paradox (“Where is everybody?”), and what we ought to do about it.
Anyway, we found a new article on the subject at PhysOrg: We could find aliens any day now — SETI scientists discuss extraterrestrial life hunting. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
We could be on the verge of answering one of the essential questions of humanity that has captivated our minds for centuries. As we advance in technology the search for extraterrestrial life becomes more sophisticated and promising. But the real frosting on the cake would be finding any signs of an intelligent alien civilization. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project is looking carefully for these signs, listening to the Universe that may be full of potential ET signals. In an interview with astrowatch.net [here they are: Astro Watch], key figures of alien life hunting discuss the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. SETI’s Seth Shostak, Paul Shuch, Douglas Vakoch and Gerry Harp talk the odds of finding ETs, explain the famous “Wow!” signal received in 1977 and unveil the future of the search for aliens.
It’s good to get an update from the people who are actually involved. The rest of the article is a bunch of questions from Astro Watch and answers from the SETI people. We’ll give you only a few excerpts:
Question: When will we find extraterrestrial life? Will it take less than 20 years as some NASA scientists believe?
Seth Shostak: No one knows, obviously. But based on the speed of our SETI searches, I predicted five years ago, in a talk and a paper, that we could find a signal proving the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence within two dozen years. More recently, NASA says the same thing, but “life” not “intelligent life.” I suspect they’re betting more heavily on finding evidence of microbial life in the solar system.
Paul Shuch: I am less optimistic, short-term, though very hopeful, long-term. I believe SETI is a multigenerational enterprise. We have only had telecommunications technology and radio astronomy for less than an eye-blink, on the cosmic calendar.
Douglas Vakoch: There are three ways we could find life beyond Earth in the next twenty years. As we explore the planets and moons of our own solar system, we could find evidence of microbial life close to home. As our capabilities for detecting atmospheres of planets circling other stars improve, we might find support for life on those distant worlds. And as we use radio telescopes to look for signals from advanced civilizations through SETI, we could find the telltale signs of alien technologies. Of these three search strategies, only SETI has the potential for a discovery as early as tonight. With enough commitment and funding, any of the three approaches could succeed by 2035.
Gerry Harp: It might happen in less than 20 years. If I were to guess, I’d say there is a 50% chance that we will discover life elsewhere within 30 years from now. The first generation of planet-characterization telescopes in space may be coming on line in less than 20 years, but my guess is that life won’t be discovered until the second generation.
The other way life may be discovered is via SETI. Carl Sagan once famously estimated that there are one million transmitting civilizations in the galaxy. Taking this as a working hypothesis, we will be able to test this hypothesis within the next 10 years. I have little doubt that there are so many active civilizations in the galaxy, but again, we may need more sensitive telescopes than the ones we currently have or will have soon to find ET. So once again, I estimate that there is a 50% chance that life will be discovered via SETI in the next 30 years. There is a substantial chance that within 30 years, we will find life by both methods.
Then they talk about the Wow! signal. We’ll let you read that for yourself, but they don’t think it was any big deal.
After that they say they need better equipment, better computers, and more money. We think it would be money well spent, but you know what the creationists will say about that. Ol’ Hambo, for example, thinks the best use for your money would be to help him build his Ark — because unlike SETI, which is secular nonsense, the Ark is really important!
After you’ve read the PhysOrg article, we’d like to know what you think. Is SETI a worthwhile project? And if we find them (or they find us), then what?
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