The SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array (ATA), which hunts for radio signals from hypothetical intelligent alien life. Via
SETI INSTITUTE

There are a few questions that plague humanity (and scientists) — questions that are paramount in understanding deep-seated questions we all have about our existence, like: How did the universe begin? What physics governs black holes? And, perhaps most importantly, Are we alone in the universe?

In spite of all of our technology, and the ever-increasing amount of knowledge we've acquired, we may never have answers to some of these questions. That thought may be a bit depressing (just as it's depressing that answers to some of the most tantalizing mysteries won't be revealed until long after the last human being alive right now dies); however, a couple of SETI scientists recently claimed that we will have an answer to the "are we alone" question in the near future. Dan Werthimer and Seth Shostak, both SETI scientists, testified before the U.S. House of Science and Technology Committee that we will have "solid" evidence for the existence of alien life (or even the non-existence of alien life) within the next 20 years. They key to this discovery, the scientists claim, is economics. Shostak stated:

“At least a half-dozen other worlds (besides Earth) that might have life are in our solar system. The chances of finding it, I think, are good, and if that happens, it’ll happen in the next 20 years, depending on the financing.”

[Reference: Discovery News]

To put that in perspective, he suggests that we'll probably have a good idea of whether or not aliens exist in our galaxy by 2034 (to be fair, this isn't the first time they've made similar claims). However, knowing is only half the battle. Because of the extent of the vastness of space, reaching these foreign lifeforms would be a borderline impossible task based on current technology. As it stands, no human has ever ventured farther than the moon, which is a mere 238,900 miles (384,400 km) away from Earth. The sun's closest neighbor, in the Alpha Centauri system, is situated more than 4 light-years from Earth, equaling out to a staggering distance of 24.7 trillion miles (39.9 trillion km)Indeed, we aren't even prepared to send a human 140 million miles (225 million km) away from Earth to Mars.

How We Might Find Life:

But that fact doesn't impede scientists and researchers working at SETI. SETI stands for the "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." It is a non-profit, NASA-sponsored, organization that aims to "explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe." Currently, there are three primary methods the researchers use to scour the skies for signs of alien life. One method focuses on life potentially found a little closer to home; Mars and various other moons are the source of most of their attention. The second method involves searching the atmospheres of exoplanets for signs of oxygen or methane. This may seem like an odd thing to look for, but these are gases that, on Earth, are tied to life and other biological phenomena. The third project involves combing the skies for technologically advanced alien species (civilizations that might rank high on the Kardashev Scale). Specifically, they look for those that are sending radio signals (or other such indicators) out into space (intentionally or otherwise).

This image was created by Abstruse Goose.

The Immensity of their Endeavor:

At this point, our own broadcasts (like “I Love Lucy” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”) have passed 10,000 stars. However, before you start thinking that Marvin the Martin is going to come knocking on our door (or atmosphere), scientists estimate that there are over 300 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, so humanity's broadcasts really haven't traveled all that far in the grand scheme of things. And if there is life out there, it's unlikely that it will be listening for us in a planetary system found so close to our own solar system. Yet, basic probability says that alien life is out there.

Shostak clarified this point, saying that Earth is likely not as unique as some might like to believe:

“In our own galaxy there are tens of billions of other planets that are the kind you might want to build condos on. And if that isn’t adequate for your requirements, let me point out there are 150 other galaxies we can see with our telescopes, each with a similar complement of Earth-like worlds. What that means is that the numbers are so astounding that, if this is the only planet in which not only life, but intelligent life, has arisen, then we are extraordinarily exceptional. It’s like buying trillions of lottery tickets and none of them is a winner. That would be very, very unusual. The history of astronomy shows that every time we thought we were special we were wrong."

[Reference: Discovery News]

It's also interesting to consider that the creatures we spend so much time looking for might utilize the same methods to find us. If we ever do find our way to each other, we will be two halves made whole.

Enjoyed this article? Learn why some SETI researchers believe we should look for evidence of Dyson Spheres here.


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