A Renewed Search For Extraterrestrials

Space scientists and other earthlings wanting to know if there’s intelligent life somewhere out there, just got a huge boost.

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has pledged $100 million to help observatories in the U.S. and Australia look and listen for intelligent life in the Milky Way and other galaxies.

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer and director of the Center for SETI Research, discusses the initiative with Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd.

Interview Highlights: Seth Shostak

What $100 million do for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

“It will do wonderful things. I guess because it’s actually substantial funding over a period of time, in this case a decade, that allows the University of California SETI group there to set up an experiment and develop new equipment that will speed up the search. In other words, to really do it. It’s like the King of Spain saying to Columbus, ‘You know what Chris? We’re going to build you three wooden ships.’ And now we can do some exploration.”

What equipment will be used to search for extraterrestrial life?

“They’re planning to use two existing radio telescopes. All they are are very large antennas. One is called the Green Bank Telescope. It’s located in lovely Green Bank, West Virginia. The other antenna they’re going to be using is the Parkes Radio Telescope, which happens to be located in Parkes, about a three hour drive west of Sydney, Australia. They’re going to be used for as much as a couple of months every year by the Berkeley group to look for signals that would tell us if somebody is out there.”

Should astronomers broadcast a greeting into space, or just listen for aliens?

“It’s incredibly controversial. You’re going to think that it’s pretty esoteric. But it’s actually not so esoteric because there are people, legitimate people, and some of my colleagues are among them, who think, look, we’ve been listening for a long time but maybe we ought to step up to the plate and actually transmit something and see if we can encourage a response from someone on a planet not terribly far away so it doesn’t take forever for their response to get back to us. But others have pointed out, and others include people like Stephen Hawking, you know this could be dangerous. You don’t know what’s out there. Yeah maybe 99 percent of all aliens are peaceful and loving, but if you have to hit the 1 percent that are not friendly and what if they launch a weaponry in your direction and cause havoc and destruction here. Is it worth taking that chance? My opinion on this is that this is a lot of noise about not very much because any society that would have the capability of harming us has equipment that is adequate to pick up television from Boston or the radars down at the local airport or all the other things that we’ve been sending into space since the second war. We’ve already told them we’re here.”

Guest

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