Tag: search for extraterrestrial intelligence (page 1 of 2)

Frequency and Fallibility

Frequency and Fallibility Humans are such strange creatures. We dance about, scream and shout and expect our inexperienced and traumatized rantings to overshadow everything. Whether it be a contact experience of non-linear and non-local nature, an NDE (near-death experience) or STE (spiritually transformative experience); they all have unique and similar responses in the consciousness of […]

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Do we really want to know if we’re not alone in the universe?

Frank Drake, the founder of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), at his home in Aptos, Calif. (Ramin Rahimian for The Washington Post)

Excerpt from washingtonpost.com

It was near Green Bank, W.Va., in 1960 that a young radio astronomer named Frank Drake conducted the first extensive search for alien civilizations in deep space. He aimed the 85-foot dish of a radio telescope at two nearby, sun-like stars, tuning to a frequency he thought an alien civilization might use for interstellar communication.

But the stars had nothing to say.

So began SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a form of astronomical inquiry that has captured the imaginations of people around the planet but has so far failed to detect a single “hello.” Pick your explanation: They’re not there; they’re too far away; they’re insular and aloof; they’re zoned out on computer games; they’re watching us in mild bemusement and wondering when we’ll grow up.

Now some SETI researchers are pushing a more aggressive agenda: Instead of just listening, we would transmit messages, targeting newly discovered planets orbiting distant stars. Through “active SETI,” we’d boldly announce our presence and try to get the conversation started.

Naturally, this is controversial, because of . . . well, the Klingons. The bad aliens.

 NASA discovers first Earth-size planet in habitable zone of another star

"NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has discovered the first validated Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a distant star, an area where liquid water might exist on its surface. The planet, Kepler-186f, is ten percent larger in size than Earth and orbits its parent star, Kepler-186, every 130 days. The star, located about 500 light-years from Earth, is classified as an M1 dwarf and is half the size and mass of our sun." (NASA Ames Research Center)
“ETI’s reaction to a message from Earth cannot presently be known,” states a petition signed by 28 scientists, researchers and thought leaders, among them SpaceX founder Elon Musk. “We know nothing of ETI’s intentions and capabilities, and it is impossible to predict whether ETI will be benign or hostile.”

This objection is moot, however, according to the proponents of active SETI. They argue that even if there are unfriendlies out there, they already know about us. That’s because “I Love Lucy” and other TV and radio broadcasts are radiating from Earth at the speed of light. Aliens with advanced instruments could also detect our navigational radar beacons and would see that we’ve illuminated our cities.

“We have already sent signals into space that will alert the aliens to our presence with the transmissions and street lighting of the last 70 years,” Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in California and a supporter of the more aggressive approach, has written. “These emissions cannot be recalled.”

That’s true only to a point, say the critics of active SETI. They argue that unintentional planetary leakage, such as “I Love Lucy,” is omnidirectional and faint, and much harder to detect than an intentional, narrowly focused signal transmitted at a known planet.

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Should Humanity Try to Contact Alien Civilizations?

Some researchers want to use big radio dishes like the 305-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to announce our presence to intelligent aliens.

Excerpt from space.com
by Mike Wall

Is it time to take the search for intelligent aliens to the next level?
For more than half a century, scientists have been scanning the heavens for signals generated by intelligent alien life. They haven't found anything conclusive yet, so some researchers are advocating adding an element called "active SETI" (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) — not just listening, but also beaming out transmissions of our own designed to catch aliens' eyes.

Active SETI "may just be the approach that lets us make contact with life beyond Earth," Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said earlier this month during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose.

Seeking contact

Vakoch envisions using big radio dishes such as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to blast powerful, information-laden transmissions at nearby stars, in a series of relatively cheap, small-scale projects.

"Whenever any of the planetary radar folks are doing their asteroid studies, and they have an extra half an hour before or after, there's always a target star readily available that they can shift to without a lot of extra slough time," he said.

The content of any potential active SETI message is a subject of considerable debate. If it were up to astronomer Seth Shostak, Vakoch's SETI Institute colleague, we'd beam the entire Internet out into space.

"It's like sending a lot of hieroglyphics to the 19th century — they [aliens] can figure it out based on the redundancy," Shostak said during the AAAS discussion. "So, I think in terms of messages, we should send everything."

While active SETI could help make humanity's presence known to extrasolar civilizations, the strategy could also aid the more traditional "passive" search for alien intelligence, Shostak added.
"If you're going to run SETI experiments, where you're trying to listen for a putative alien broadcast, it may be very instructive to have to construct a transmitting project," he said. "Because now, you walk a mile in the Klingons' shoes, assuming they have them."

Cause for concern?

But active SETI is a controversial topic. Humanity has been a truly technological civilization for only a few generations; we're less than 60 years removed from launching our first satellite to Earth orbit, for example. So the chances are that any extraterrestrials who pick up our signals would be far more advanced than we are. 

This likelihood makes some researchers nervous, including famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

"Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach," Hawking said in 2010 on an episode of "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking," a TV show that aired on the Discovery Channel. "If so, it makes sense for them to exploit each new planet for material to build more spaceships so they could move on. Who knows what the limits would be?"

Astrophysicist and science fiction author David Brin voiced similar concerns during the AAAS event, saying there's no reason to assume that intelligent aliens would be altruistic.

"This is an area in which discussion is called for," Brin said. "What are the motivations of species that they might carry with them into their advanced forms, that might color their cultures?"

Brin stressed that active SETI shouldn't be done in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion by small groups of astronomers.

"This is something that should be discussed worldwide, and it should involve our peers in many other specialties, such as history," he said. "The historians would tell us, 'Well, gee, we have some examples of first-contact scenarios between advanced technological civilizations and not-so-advanced technological civilizations.' Gee, how did all of those turn out? Even when they were handled with goodwill, there was still pain."

Out there already

Vakoch and Shostak agreed that international discussion and cooperation are desirable. But Shostak said that achieving any kind of consensus on the topic of active SETI may be difficult. For example, what if polling reveals that 60 percent of people on Earth are in favor of the strategy, while 40 percent are opposed?

"Do we then have license to go ahead and transmit?" Shostak said. "That's the problem, I think, with this whole 'let's have some international discussion' [idea], because I don't know what the decision metric is."

Vakoch and Shostak also said that active SETI isn't as big a leap as it may seem at first glance: Our civilization has been beaming signals out into the universe unintentionally for a century, since the radio was invented.

"The reality is that any civilization that has the ability to travel between the stars can already pick up our accidental radio and TV leakage," Vakoch said. "A civilization just 200 to 300 years more advanced than we are could pick up our leakage radiation at a distance of several hundred light-years. So there are no increased dangers of an alien invasion through active SETI."

But Brin disputed this assertion, saying the so-called "barn door excuse" is a myth.

"It is very difficult for advanced civilizations to have picked us up at our noisiest in the 1980s, when we had all these military radars and these big television antennas," he said.

Shostak countered that a fear of alien invasion, if taken too far, could hamper humanity's expansion throughout the solar system, an effort that will probably require the use of high-powered transmissions between farflung outposts.

"Do you want to hamstring all that activity — not for the weekend, not just shut down the radars next week, or active SETI this year, but shut down humanity forever?" Shostak said. "That's a price I'm not willing to pay."

So the discussion and debate continues — and may continue for quite some time.

"This is the only really important scientific field without any subject matter," Brin said. "It's an area in which opinion rules, and everybody has a very fierce opinion."

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2015 IUFOC – from a patron

A moment in time… Many years ago the gentleman on the far left in photo, Jim Dilettoso, along with Ret. Col. Wendelle Stevens (RIP) organized the first International UFO Congress in Tucson, AZ. I was quite fortunate to have been able to be there, arriving in a limousine owned by a mutual friend, Roy Haddix […]

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Earth To Aliens: Scientists Want To Send Messages To Extraterrestrial Intelligence Possibly Living On Exoplanets

Excerpt from techtimes.comExtraterrestrial research experts have said that now is the time to contact intelligent life on alien worlds.Leading figures behind the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti), which has been using radio telescop...

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Convincing People about UFOs?

  WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO CONVINCE PEOPLE THAT UFOs ARE IMPORTANT? Joseph Burkes MD 2014 UFO historian Richard Dolan has described the initial reaction of many people to his passionate interest in the subject. They express interest, might even describe something they saw on TV concerning the phenomenon and then after a few minutes […]

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Contact in the Desert – New Dates

Contact in the Desert New Dates Now in its third year amidst the desert background in the Joshua Tree area, Contact in the Desert is moving the the end of May. Patrons are getting their wish as the previous August dates, even with the Perseid meteor showers, was challenging to heat-sensitive folks. It’s a beautiful […]

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Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

Excerpt from  wsj.com
By Eric Metaxas

The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.
What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?
Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.

Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” ( Dutton Adult, 2014).

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SETI Contact – Blue Sky?

SETI Contact – Blue Sky? The SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter makes her TED Prize wish: to accelerate our search for cosmic company. Using a growing array of radio telescopes, she and her team listen for patterns that may be a sign of intelligence elsewhere in the universe. Jill gives a wonderful talk about the diversity […]

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Are we sending aliens the right messages?



Artist Carrie Paterson has long dreamed of beaming messages far out to the emptiness of space. Except her messages would have an extra dimension – smell.

By broadcasting formulae of aromatic chemicals, she says, aliens could reconstruct all sorts of whiffs that help to define life on Earth: animal blood and faeces, sweet floral and citrus scents or benzene to show our global dependence on the car. This way intelligent life forms on distant planets who may not see or hear as we do, says Paterson, could explore us through smell, one of the most primitive and ubiquitous senses of all.
It is nearly 40 years since the Arecibo facility sent messages out into space (Wikipedia)

Her idea is only the latest in a list of attempts to hail intelligent life outside of the Solar System. Forty years ago this month, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico sent an iconic picture message into space – and we’ve arguably been broadcasting to aliens ever since we invented TV and radio.

However in recent years, astronomers, artists, linguists and anthropologists have been converging on the idea that creating comprehensible messages for aliens is much harder than it seems. This week, Paterson and others discussed the difficulties of talking to our cosmic neighbours at a conference called Communicating Across the Cosmos, held by Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It seems our traditional ways of communicating through pictures and language may well be unintelligible – or worse, be catastrophically misconstrued. So how should we be talking to ET?

Lost in translation?

We have always wanted to send messages about humanity beyond the planet. According to Albert Harrison, a space psychologist and author of Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore, the first serious designs for contacting alien life appeared two centuries ago, though they never got off the ground.

In the 1800s, mathematician Carl Gauss proposed cutting down lines of trees in a densely forested area and replanting the strips with wheat or rye, Harrison wrote in his book. “The contrasting colours would form a giant triangle and three squares known as a Pythagoras figure which could be seen from the Moon or even Mars.” Not long after, the astronomer Joseph von Littrow proposed creating huge water-filled channels topped with kerosene. “Igniting them at night showed geometric patterns such as triangles that Martians would interpret as a sign of intelligence, not nature.”

But in the 20th Century, we began to broadcast in earnest. The message sent by Arecibo hoped to make first contact on its 21,000 year journey to the edge of the Milky Way. The sketches it contained, made from just 1,679 digital bits, look cute to us today, very much of the ‘Pong’ video game generation.  Just before then, Nasa’s Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes each carried a metal calling card bolted onto their frame with symbols and drawings on the plaque, showing a naked man and woman.

Yet it’s possible that these kinds of message may turn out to be incomprehensible to aliens; they might find it as cryptic as we find Stone Age etchings.

Antique tech

“Linear drawings of a male and a female homo sapiens are legible to contemporary humans,” says Marek Kultys, a London-based science communications designer. ”But the interceptors of Pioneer 10 could well assume we are made of several separate body parts (i.e. faces, hair and the man’s chest drawn as a separate closed shapes) and our body surface is home for long worm-like beings (the single lines defining knees, abdomens or collarbones.).”

Man-made tech may also be an issue. The most basic requirement for understanding Voyager’s Golden Record, launched 35 years ago and now way out beyond Pluto, is a record player. Aliens able to play it at 16 and 2/3 revolutions a minute will hear audio greetings in 55 world languages, including a message of ‘Peace and Friendship’ from former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. But how many Earthlings today have record players, let alone extraterrestrials?
Our sights and sounds of Earth might be unintelligible to an alien audience (Nasa)

Time capsule

Inevitably such messages become outdated too, like time capsules. Consider the case of the Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization – a time capsule sealed on Earth in 1940, complete with a dry martini and a poster of Gone With the Wind. It was intended as a snapshot of 20th Century life for future humans, not aliens, but like an intergalactic message, may only give a limited picture to future generations. When, in 61,000 years, the Oglethorpe time capsule is opened, would Gone With The Wind have stood the test of time?

This message was taken into the stars by Pioneer - but we have no idea if aliens would be able to understand it (Nasa)

Kultys argues that all these factors should be taken into account when we calculate the likelihood of communicating with intelligent life. The astronomer Frank Drake’s famous equation allows anyone to calculate how many alien species are, based on likely values of seven different factors. At a UK Royal Society meeting in 2010 Drake estimated there are roughly 10,000 detectable civilisations in the galaxy. Yet Kultys points out that we should also factor in how many aliens are using the same channel of communications as us, are as willing to contact us as we are them, whose language we hope to learn, and who are physically similar to us.

Another barrier we might consider is the long distance nature of trans-cosmos communication. It means that many years ‒ even a thousand ‒ could pass between sending a message and receiving a reply. Paterson sees romance in that. “Our hope for communication with another intelligent civilisation has a melancholic aspect to it. 
We are on an island in a vast, dark space. Imagine if communication… became like an exchange of perfumed love letters with the quiet agony of expectation... Will we meet? Will we be as the other imagined? Will the other be able to understand us?”

Ready for an answer?

Anthropologist John Traphagan of the University of Texas in Austin has been asking the same question, though his view is more cautious. "When it comes to ET, you'll get a signal of some kind; not much information and very long periods between ‘Hi, how are you?’ and whatever comes back. We may just shrug our shoulders and say 'This is boring’, and soon forget about it or, if the time lag wasn't too long, we might use the minimal information we get from our slow-speed conversation to invent what we think they're like and invent a kind concept of what they're after.”

(20th Century Fox)
The aliens in Independence Day (1996) did not come in peace (20th Century Fox)
While we have been sending out messages, we have not been preparing the planet for what happens when we get an interstellar return call. First contact could cause global panic. We might assume those answering are bent on galactic domination or, perhaps less likely, that they are peaceful when in fact they’re nasty.

Consider how easy it is to mess up human-to-human communications; I got Traphagan’s first name wrong when I e-mailed him for this article. An apology within minutes cleared up the confusion, yet if he had been an alien anthropologist on some distant planet it would have taken much longer to fix. He later confessed: "I could have thought this is a snooty English journalist and our conversation might never have happened."

Even if Earth’s interstellar messaging committees weeded out the typos, cultural gaffes are always a possibility. These can only be avoided by understanding the alien’s culture – something that’s not easy to do, especially when you’ve never met those you’re communicating with.

Rosy picture

So, what is the best way to communicate? This is still up for grabs – perhaps it’s via smell, or some other technique we haven’t discovered yet. Clearly, creating a message that is timeless, free of cultural bias and universally comprehensible would be no mean feat.

But for starters, being honest about who we are is important if we want to have an extra-terrestrial dialogue lasting centuries, says Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at Seti. (Otherwise, intelligent civilisations who’ve decoded our radio and TV signals might smell a rat.)

The golden discs aboard the Voyager spacecraft require aliens to understand how to play a record (Nasa)

“Let's not try to hide our shortcomings,” says Vakoch. “The message we should send to another world is straightforward: We are a young civilisation, in the throes of our technological adolescence. We're facing a lot of problems here on Earth, and we're not even sure that we'll be around as a species when their reply comes in. But in spite of all of these challenges, we humans also have hope – especially hope in ourselves."

Yet ultimately what matters, says Paterson, is that they stop and consider the beings who sent them a message; the people who wanted to say: “Here are some important things. Here’s our DNA, here is some maths and universal physics. And here is our longing and desire to say “I’m like you, but I’m different.”

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NASA Injects New Funds Into Search for Origins of Life

Excerpt from

In a new round of funding announced on Monday, NASA is allocating $50 million to 7 astrobiology research groups in the US to tackle these questions.

The grants will cover 5 years of study and will average $8 million per research group...

The astrobiology teams are based at 3 NASA institutions (Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.), 3 universities (University of Colorado at Boulder, University of California, Riverside and the University of Montana in Missoula) and at The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at Mountain View, Calif...

“The intellectual scope of astrobiology is vast, from understanding how our planet went from lifeless to living, to understanding how life has adapted to Earth’s harshest environments, to exploring other worlds with the most advanced technologies to search for signs of life,” said Mary Voytek, director, astrobiology program, NASA Headquarters. “The new teams cover that breadth of astrobiology, and by coming together in the NAI (NASA Astrobiology Institute), they will make the connections between disciplines and organizations that stimulate fundamental scientific advances.”

These 7 new teams join 5 existing NAI teams at the University of Washington in Seattle; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

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Contact in the Desert recap

The second Contact in the Desert event at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center was held this last weekend. Attendance grew to well over a thousand people in spite of the sweltering heat. When asked about possible date changes the event organizer, Paul Andrews, stated that the reason Perseid Meteor showers are most visible then. I’m […]

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Advanced Aliens: Why ET Will Be More Advanced than Humanity


Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI

Dec. 04, 2000
by Seth Shostak - Senior Astronomer

Movie aliens are often like distant relatives: they resemble us in an unpleasant sort of way. This is hardly a surprise. Hollywood creates characters that audiences can identify with, and that’s why its aliens are so anthropomorphic (and why Donald Duck looks more like a human than a duck.)

But appearances aside, cinema aliens have another implausible attribute: they’re nearly always at our level of technical sophistication. We frequently trade gunfire with them or chase them around in dogfights. This is silly, of course. Any beings capable of bridging the vast distances between the stars would be able to clean our clock when it comes to science and engineering. Visitors from other worlds – should any appear – would be enormously ahead of us from a technological viewpoint.

It may surprise you to learn that the same is true for any aliens we might tune in with our SETI experiments.

Why is that? Why will our listening experiments – if they succeed – find only highly advanced aliens?

The reason is this: our chance of detecting societies that are sending high-powered radio signals or intense laser beams our way depends on their average longevity – how many years they stay "on the air." Imagine for a moment that the city you live in is the Milky Way Galaxy. Let’s further assume that you’re looking for signs of life in this urban agglomeration. It’s raining and you can’t walk the streets, so you decide to hunt for company from home by monitoring a short-wave radio. You hope that some of the life out there is on the air, either as radio hams, CB users or whatever.

Clearly, the longer the average time that the broadcasters spend blathering into the microphone, the greater the chance that you’ll stumble into a transmission as you twist your antenna and tune the dial. In SETI circles, this dependence on a society’s technological lifetime is represented by the factor "L" in the famous Drake Equation.

Fair enough. But now take a deep breath and consider some representative numbers. In the next two decades, the SETI Institute hopes to use new telescopes (including the Allen Telescope Array) to check out as many as a million Sun-like stars. If we find a signal in that sample, then we’ll know that approximately one in a million solar-type stars has a planet where broadcasters are active. Suppose that sometime in its 10 billion-year lifetime, every Sun-like star eventually cooks up some sophisticated beings. (This is highly unlikely, of course, but hold on…) Since each of these stars will last for roughly 10 billion years, then every civilization has to be on the air for 10,000 years – on average – in order for one in a million of them to be broadcasting now. If we suppose that only one in 10 of the Sun-like stars eventually produces a transmitting society, then they have to be on the air for 100,000 years for one in a million of them to be broadcasting now. And so forth.

In other words, even if we are wildly optimistic about the fraction of Sun-like stars that produce sophisticated beings, our chances for SETI success in the near term depend on broadcasting activities that last for at least 10,000 years, and undoubtedly much longer.

On Earth, we’ve been transmitting high-powered, high-frequency signals for 50 years or so. That’s 0.5 percent of 10,000 years. In other words, the chances are better (probably much better) than 99.5 percent that any ET we detect in the next decade will be ahead of us, scientifically. Ahead of us by many thousands of years. To them we will be the technological equivalent of club-wielding Neanderthals.

So forget about movie aliens, who always seem keen to engage us in aerial combat or invite us aboard their ships for unpleasant personal experiments. Any aliens we overhear will be considerably beyond that.

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