March 20, 2014 – SETI stands for the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence. These are scientists like the one so well portrayed by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie, Contact. Their mission is to find not just life, but intelligent life somewhere else in the Universe other than here. Some of you may argue that we haven’t yet found it on planet Earth, but for the purpose of our definition, intelligent life would be self-aware, and able to build an advanced technological capability of communicating over the long distances of space. Humans fit that definition whereas elephants, great apes and whales don’t.
But SETI scientists in making their prediction of within 25 years are not talking about a technology-literate, sentient form of life. They are simply stating that we will find recognizable living things in space in this next quarter century. This prediction was confidently stated on March 10 at Innovation Union – A Europe 2020 Initiative, by Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute, a radio astronomer who graduated from Princeton University and California Institute of Technology. Those are decent credentials so we can state that this prediction about alien life being discovered comes from a knowledgeable source.
What is putting confidence behind the words is the discovery of thousands of exoplanets, many located in habitable zones circling stars that are light years away from Earth. At the same time the evidence on Mars is persuasive enough to suggest that at some point in the past our neighboring planet was habitable for several hundred million years.
So how will we discover this space life? So far SETI has been looking for radio signals coming from space that are consistent with a pattern we would consider to be some kind of message, a beacon stating “I’m intelligent. Can you hear me?” The search which has been going on for approximately a half-century has yet to achieve a eureka moment.
But Shostak argues that our first discovery will more than likely be microbial and that we will probably find it right here in our neighbourhood, on Mars or on one of the moons of Jupiter.
And our second discovery will happen as we survey the many exoplanets we are discovering. Increasingly sophisticated sensors will give us a sniff of these planets atmospheres and he is confident we will discover the gases that living processes create.
Shostak states, “there are 150 billion galaxies other than our own, each with a few tens of billions of earth-like planets. If this is the only place in the universe where anything interesting is happening then this is a miracle. And 500 years of astronomy has taught us that whenever you believe in a miracle, you’re probably wrong.”