Seth Shostak talks ET

Seth Shostak talks ET

My background is pretty eclectic. I’ve had
lots of different jobs, but most of it, and certainly my academic training, has been in
physics and astronomy. I got seriously interested in SETI when I was a graduate student using
some big antennas – radio telescopes – to study galaxies, and late at night, three o’clock
in the morning, I’m reading this book that tells me, hey, this equipment you’re using
to study galaxies, you could also use that to find ET signals. Well that was pretty dramatic
at three in the morning. In my experience members of the public figure
that SETI is a worldwide enterprise, involving hundreds, probably thousands of white lab
coated scientists walking around with their clipboards and looking through their telescopes,
or, you know, downloading data from their radio instruments trying to find ET. Now,
that’s not the case. The total number of people in the world that get a paycheck for doing
SETI is, well, I dunno what it is, maybe a dozen. And the majority of them are right
here in the Bay Area, at the SETI Institute and here at Berkeley. The SETI Institute has been involved in SETI
searches, you know, trying to eavesdrop on alien broadcasts, for a very long time now,
and we use a technique that was actually pioneered about a half century ago by a guy by the name
of Frank Drake, who also works at our Institute. That scheme’s very simple. You just point
some big antennas, they’re called radio telescopes, but that’s just to give them a little bit
of panache, big antennas in the direction of some nearby star systems that you think
might have a planet that’s inhabited by beings clever enough to build a radio transmitter,
and you’re trying to eavesdrop. So that’s the kind of experiment we do the most. And
what’s nice about being alive today is that we finally have enough astronomical knowledge,
and we have, you know, the kind of technology that at least gives you a chance of finding
their presence elsewhere in the Galaxy. Clearly, SETI is an underfunded endeavor.
We’re not searching fast enough. If you had more money, what would you do with it? You
would build more instrumentation that would allow you to speed up the search. Look, you
know, the hypothesis that they’re out there, I think that’s a good hypothesis, but in order
to find them, since you don’t know where they are or what frequency they’re broadcasting
on, or even the level of the signal, you have to speed up your search, otherwise it could
take, you know, millennia, who knows? So, we are speeding up the search with technological
developments, but it’s always, the pace of improvement is always set by the funding. You know, a question you always get if you
do this kind of work is, “So when are you guys going to succeed. You haven’t found ET
yet – when are you going to do that?”. And of course, nobody knows. And I figured all
my colleagues would be answering that question by saying, “We don’t know.” But they don’t
say that. They give a number. They always give a number. And I thought, well where did
this number come from? And it’s very unclear where the number comes from. It may just be
their hope. Maybe they had a dream. Who knows? But in fact if you liken the SETI search to
finding a needle in a haystack, then you realize that how long it’s going to take you to find
a needle only depends on how big is the haystack, how many needles are in there, and how fast
are you going through the hay. Now two of the three things that, you know, define how
long it’s going to take for this search, we actually know for SETI. Namely, how fast we
are searching the sky, and, you know, how big the haystack is, in this case, just our
Galaxy. So, you don’t know what the third component is, namely how many needles are
in there – how many societies are broadcasting in your direction. But if you just look at
a range of possibilities – maybe it’s a few thousand, maybe it’s a few million – if it’s
some number in between there, you can predict how long it’s going to take to find them,
and that turns out to be a couple of decades if you’re lucky. You know, there are some people who think,
oh, you’re trying to find ET, and they’re thinking little green guys that might haul
them out of their bedroom for unauthorized experiments or who knows what, and so there
is this, what’s called a giggle factor when it comes to SETI, but honestly, I don’t
see very much of that. I never saw very much of it, but I think I see less now. And that’s
because the discovery of planets around other stars, the discovery that almost every star
has planets, and that a fair fraction of those planets, one in ten, one in twenty, one in
a hundred, doesn’t matter, might be somewhat similar to the Earth, I think that that has
kind of seeped down in to the public consciousness. And so now the idea that maybe we have some
cosmic company, that there might be somebody out there, that’s not just science fiction,
that’s something that seems very, I think, probable and even likely to most people.

15 thoughts on “Seth Shostak talks ET

  1. Every year the hay-stack gets two light years in diameter larger.  The size of the stack is already more than we can search.

  2. One other element here always goes unmentioned.. Time coincidence. How many possible targets are transmitting right at the time we are listening before technology improvements weep on by and there's no longer transmissions to intercept.  In other words we have had EM communications for how many years (slightly over 100) how long will it be before we devise a means of communications that makes EM methodologies obsolete and how many potential ET sources are within that same sphere and time coincident with our receiver?  That number likely is smaller and may just rule the SETI efforts fruitless or really lessen probability of a successful intercept tremendously…

  3. If the next generation mode of communication is based on quantum entanglement (enabling faster than light-speed communication), Would it be detectable?

  4. ¡Hey! Amigos, el Tiempo pasa aceleradamente, tenemos que pisar el acelerador y ponernos la pilas, Ánimo pero venga, yá!

  5. Seth:  My logic, and the data that is available from the Scientific Community, makes me conclude that basic forms of extraterrestrial life most likely are out there.  I am not understanding why there is no direct scientific funding for your project to identify intelligent life?  Can you offer any insight as to why the U.S. government is not taking your project seriously, and providing resources to support your research.  As a long time SETI supporter, I am of the mind that it is not congruent for SETI to be left to fend for itself!
    Kevin HIllman
    Summerland, B.C.

  6. It would be very interesting, for those who know little English, these videos had some kind of translation or at least subtitle them the Spaniard Gracias.-
     Sería muy interesante, para los que sabemos poco idioma inglés, que éstos vídeos tuvieran algún tipo de traducción o al menos subtitularlos al español- Gracias.-

  7. As I've mentioned earlier, there is a way to do a fund raising & do it on our benefit that is tax deductible.

    1. Make an open letter to all astronomical societies in all known countries with idea to have a fund raising for [email protected](or just SETi).
    2. Coordinate the job with them, let astronomical societies do all the work (the ones that agree).
    3. When astronomical societies gather all the money – send it to SETi/Planetary society.
    4. On the end of the year we get tax deduction for "giving money domestically to science project of astronomical societies".

    Easy…but people have to sit down & write the letters!
    Also, an idea has to be made – what to give astronomical societies for their work? Participation in some project, mention in text, visit to Planetary society for the top fund raisers (to be equal to all societies, make it a $ per capita raised).

  8. S:E:T:I. Silly Effort To Investigate. Listening for "signals" when the aliens are already here. Stanton Friedman was right. Shostak would be out of a job if he told the truth.

  9. God i love this little speech, they are trained to tell lies over what's there or not out there , but the truth is out there and you'll be surprised of what the reality that has been put in our eyes is totally different, they have lied to us for millennia time to wake up .

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