>> *Confessions of an Alien Hunter
>> Dr. Seth Shostak*
>> Seth Shostak is Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain
>> View and heads up the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI
>> Permanent Study Group.  Seth is involved with the Institute's SETI
>> research and is responsible for much of the outreach activities of
>> the Institute, including making science and astrobiology interesting
>> to young people. He has co-authored a college textbook on
>> astrobiology, continues to write trade books on SETI and is the
>> editor of/ Explorer/. In addition, he has published nearly 300
>> popular articles on science, gives many dozens of talks annually, and
>> 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 Hunter: A
>> Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence/ (National
>> Geographic Books), an entertaining and expert account of the facts,
>> fantasies, and future of finding intelligence elsewhere in the
>> universe, and how real science differs from the Hollywood view of
>> 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 us expected to connect with life on other planets. Seemed like no hands stayed up. Seth explained that his work is all about finding that needle 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 understanding 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 enough to hold 4,000,000 scoops of ice cream. Signals from its dish are scanned 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. Right 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 few years of this surveying we expect to have some idea of the percentage of 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.

Tian Harter