If intelligent alien life exists we will find it within 20 years, says leading astronomer

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If intelligent alien life exists we will find it within two decades, thanks to advances in computer power speeding up our search of star systems, says the SETI Institute’s senior astronomer Seth Shostak.

If intelligent alien life exists we will find it within 20 years, says leading astronomer
SETI’s Alien Telescope Array (ATA) listens day and night
for a signal from space [Credit: SETI]

SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, was founded in 1984 to explore the universe and find life on other planets. It runs a series of programs using radio and optical telescopes to search for signals from aliens. The work is reliant on computers to extract any artificial signals from the “noise” of the universe.

Although the first SETI experiment was conducted about 50 years ago and there have been no signals detected that prove the existence of alien intelligence, Shostak said he was confident that if there is life out there we will find it within two decades.

Previous searches have covered a few thousand star systems “at most” and it is likely we will need to scour “a few million” before we are successful, he said in an interview with Popular Mechanics. But advances in computer technology have sped up the search and will continue to do so.

“The thing to keep in mind is that we’re still in the very early days when it comes to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Saying there’s a silence is a bit like if Columbus, looking to discover a new continent, only sailed 10 miles off the coast of Spain before turning back to say, ‘Nothing out there! I guess that whole exploration gig isn’t going to work out,'” he said.

“My guess that we’ll succeed in the next two decades is based on the fact that with improvements in digital electronics and computers – which are getting better and cheaper, following Moore’s law – we will be continually sifting through the sky faster. And you can extrapolate how fast we’ll be able to search, assuming we have the money, in the next decade or two.”

Even if we do find an alien intelligence it is unlikely they would be any closer than a couple of hundred light years, which would make communication extremely difficult. At that distance it would take 400 years to send a message and receive a single reply.

The SETI Institute is part of the wider group known as SETI which also includes projects run by Harvard University and the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. One of SETI’s most famous experiments is SETI@Home, which allows members of the public to donate their own computers when they are not in use.

Anyone wishing to take part can download free software that crunches data and searches for alien signals in the background, helping to form part of a large, distributed supercomputer.

Source: SMH [March 14, 2014]

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