SLAC Colloquium Series

SLAC Colloquium Series


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The Search for Extraterrestrials

Date: 5/21/2007

Seth Shostak
SETI Institute

Could there be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Recent research suggests that other planets and moons in our solar system might have inhabitants, but if so, they are probably smaller than a pinhead. Nonetheless, hundreds of billions of other planets may be scattered throughout the vast starfields of the Milky Way. How many of these other worlds sport life able to send messages into space, or perhaps to travel between the stars?

Project Phoenix, an ambitious scientific effort to search out civilizations around nearby stars, is now eavesdropping on possible alien radio traffic using the Arecibo Radio Telescope. Six hundred star systems have already been scrutinized, and new technologies promise to extend this search a thousand-fold in the next decade.

But how do SETI researchers sift the wheat from the chaff? With more and more interfering signals from the telecommunications industry, do we stand any chance of being able to hear E.T.'s faint whine?

Finally, we discuss the chances of success. Can Nature be expected to readily cook up interesting biology elsewhere? Even if alien life is common, is any of it intelligent? And finally suppose Project Phoenix succeeds: what then? World peace? Rioting in the streets? Would we be privy to the secrets of the ages? Or would discovery of cosmic company be the ultimate in ego deflation, proving that we are but small fry in heaven's vast ocean?

Last update: October 03, 2013