MYSTERY WIRE — The search for for extraterrestrial life is “gaining speed in an exponential fashion,” but odds are against making that discovery as early as 2020, one expert says.
Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, told space.com that the discovery of planets is exciting, but he doesn’t expect SETI’s methods to find signs of life next year. A more realistic view? Shostak says sometime in the next two decades.
The space.com survey of top SETI experts, “Will 2020 be the year we find intelligent alien life?” contains some interesting points:
- Radio signals and laser light signatures are the focus of current SETI searches. That rules out any detection of lifeforms without those technologies. And who is to say those technologies have any universal use?
- The element of surprise. When a discovery comes, we don’t know that it will reveal what we were looking for.
- How will we handle the news? Despite recent attention to the topic, there is no script for first contact. Author Michael Michaud notes, “The prevailing opinion among radio astronomers has been that the news will leak quickly. If that is correct, scientific and governmental authorities won’t have much time for developing a public-affairs strategy.” He cites the “giggle factor” as a reason he does not expect governments to be prepared.
A shift in what we are looking for has also taken place. Interest in any lifeform — not just alien life that measures up to some technological standard — has been advancing quickly and probably receives more funding.
Experts did say that if we were to find life so early in our efforts, it would be a sure sign that life is plentiful in the universe.