>> *Confessions of an Alien Hunter
>> Dr. Seth Shostak*
>> Seth Shostak is Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in
>> View and heads up the International Academy of Astronautics’
>> Permanent Study Group. Seth is involved with the
>> research and is responsible for much of the outreach
>> the Institute, including making science and astrobiology
>> to young people. He has co-authored a college textbook on
>> astrobiology, continues to write trade books on SETI and is
>> editor of/ Explorer/. In addition, he has published nearly 300
>> popular articles on science, gives many dozens of talks
>> is the host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show,
>> / Are We Alone?/
>> Seth will discuss his latest book,/ Confessions of an Alien
>> Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence/
>> Geographic Books), an entertaining and expert account of the
>> fantasies, and future of finding intelligence elsewhere in the
>> universe, and how real science differs from the Hollywood view
>> extraterrestrial life.
Seth began by asking how many of
us thought there was life on other
planets. Maybe half of us put up our hands. Then he asked how many of
expected to connect with life on other planets. Seemed like no hands
stayed up. Seth explained that his work is all about finding that
in a haystack, an analogy for the intelligent signal in the noise from
other natural static of the universe.
The search for extraterrestrial
intelligence began back in the 1877,
when an Italian astronomer saw lines on Mars through a telescope and
started telling people they were canals, partly to generate interest in
what's up there. Since then better telescopes and a deeper
of the way things work have proven that there is no life on Mars, but
the search for extraterrestrial intelligence continues. Right now the
largest radio telescope on the planet is in Puerto Rico. It's big
to hold 4,000,000 scoops of ice cream. Signals from its dish are
constantly looking for information from other life forms out there.
There are billions of stars in the
Milky Way, and of those we have been
able to examine about 750 to see if they have planets around them.
now we are aware of about 30 planets orbiting stars other than our own.
An orbiting telescope named after Kepler is planned for later this
decade, and it is specifically designed to look for planets. After a
years of this surveying we expect to have some idea of the percentage
stars that have planets around them out there.
Another way to look for life on
other planets is to consider what life
on earth says to us about the possibilities. For example, it is known
that life on this planet has been around for about 3.5 billion of the 4
billion years since the planet has cooled enough to support it. Life
that flourishes under extreme conditions is referred to as
extremeaphiles. Arctic penguins are a mild example of the genre.
It could be that looking at them will tell us something about what is
possible out there, but since Seth is an astronomer he hasn't pursued
that area much.
The area that is most easy to look
for results in is radio astronomy,
so there are lots of projects in this area. One that Seth is excited
about is the antenna array in Hat Creek, California. You get there by
going north on 5 to Redding and then heading east for an hour or so.
The array is in a valley that is well shielded by mountains from most
radio noise, and the current antenna array of 42 dishes will get more
sensitive every time it is expanded. They would like to expand it to
300 dishes, but they need donor support to make that possible. If you
want to pay for a whole antenna dish they will put your name on it.
Seth invited us to go up their and look around if we are interested.
During Q&A a lot of other topics came up:
Back in '97 they thought for a
little while that they had detected
a signal. Seth and his coworkers were up all night looking at it,
and the New York Times was already calling for more information at
10 AM the next day. It wasn't for another few hours that they decided
it was a false alarm. That is as close as they have come to detecting
extraterrestrial life at this point in time.
Seth thinks a real ET signal would
take about two weeks to verify.
There were copies of the book
available for purchase at the end.