SETI Astronomer Seth Shostak Says We May Find Aliens within 20 Years

The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 17 2013 12:00 PM

Finding E.T.

Seth Shostak, from the video
Astronomer Seth Shostak, addressing the audience at his TEDxSanJose talk in 2012.

Image credit: TEDxSanJose

My friend Seth Shostak is an astronomer, specifically a radio astronomer. That is, he looks at radio signals coming from space from various cosmic objects. But a while back, he decided to change his focus (haha, get it?) somewhat. He doesn’t look for black holes and galaxies anymore. He looks for aliens.

He works with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, aka SETI. If you’ve never heard of them—and seriously, c’mon—they are a group of dedicated scientists and engineers who think that advanced alien beings may exist, and may want to talk to us. Given some simple assumptions, you find that radio waves are the best way to do this: They travel at the speed of light, they are easy to detect, they can contain a lot of information, and budding civilizations are likely to be able to figure that out.

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Still, the folks at SETI been searching a while and haven’t heard anything. That doesn’t slow Seth down, though, because he knows that our technology is increasing rapidly. We’re getting so good at this, in fact, that Seth thinks we may hear from our cosmic brethren in the next 20 years or so!

But you know what? I’ll let him tell you all about it, in this TEDxSanJose talk he gave in April 2012. I think you’ll quite enjoy it.

I think Seth makes a compelling case. And we’ll know soon enough. The galaxy is big. But we know there are billions of planets out there, some of them quite old…and we are getting better at this. If E.T. is out there, I hope SETI can find it.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!