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SETI Founder Outlines Ambitious Future Plans 281

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-send-money dept.
Lanxon writes "'In the universe there is intelligent life, I'm confident about that,' SETI founder Dr Frank Drake (of the Drake Equation) affirmed earlier today during a talk at the Royal Society in London, 50 years after SETI was founded. One of his visions to prove this, and to show that the last five decades were not a waste of time, is to station a radio observatory not in near-Earth orbit, but on the far side of the moon. He also suggests that another craft could later be stationed 500 times further away from the Sun than the Earth, using the Sun itself as a giant magnifying lens to resolve alien worlds."
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SETI Founder Outlines Ambitious Future Plans

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  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:30PM (#30896112) Homepage Journal

    I personally think SETI is misguided, even though its aims are commendable. There probably is intelligent life out there, but it is a possibility that earth could have been the first planet on which it developed.

    But I see two very great problems with SETI.

    First is the limited range; nobody more than around 150 light years away would be able to detect intelligent life on earth.

    If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

    • by haruchai (17472) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:34PM (#30896206)

      They can't be so smart that we don't appear sentient - we've put men ( briefly ) on the moon.
      We might be grossly inferior, but certainly sentient and, I hope, unappetizing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Of course we'll appear sentient. So does a dog. Any argument a human could make against canine intelligence could be made a thousand fold by some theoretical more intelligent beings than us against us (whew read that 3 times fast). That's especially the case given how completely unlike us they might appear, while dogs are extremely similar to us. To some hyper intelligence we might appear to be an interesting chemical reaction as they load our planet into their fusion plant. Given any possible FTL techniqu

      • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:58PM (#30897332) Homepage Journal

        Look at what has happened in the past, when two cultures of the same species met on our planet. Group A sails over the ocean, and discovers a strange culture B on another continent. Despite the fact that this was a meeting between members of the same species, group A doesn't recognize that group B is even human. Group A proceeds to enslave, kidnap, kill, and steal the land and resources of group B.

        This pattern has been repeated a bunch of times in our own history. So, when humans meet aliens, the inferior group will be lunch.

        • by thesandtiger (819476) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:38PM (#30897846)

          Often, but not always. And it is possible that some of that may be attributable to our genetic legacy and one of the primary drives for evolution on Earth.

          But, what if life on another planet started off with a different scenario, and rather than massive competition for resources, cooperation was the overriding measure of fitness? Any species there that attempted to consume another might quickly go extinct, while species that were cooperative might thrive.

          I'm not saying aliens couldn't be hostile, just that there may be other paradigms out there than the "red in tooth and claw" one that is *usually* the case with species interactions and evolution on Earth.

          • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:59PM (#30899624) Journal

            Most likely any race that can develop FTL drives will be able to harvest fuel from any planet/asteroid/cloud they please, and will just take one look at us and go "EEEEEWWWW!" and run as far away from our messy asses as possible. Unless they decide to do a little Jane Goodall "Gorillas in the mist" style study of primitive cultures.

            What will be more interesting is what will happen if/when we develop FTL drives and "boldy go where no man has gone before" because I'm afraid old Roddenberry might have wrote fun sci-fi, but when it came to the way we humans are he was full of shit. Sure they'll probably be some science vessels pisslefarting around, but more likely the military WILL be building some BSG style Dreadnoughts first and foremost. And if the first race we encounter is not at least equal to, if not more advanced than us? Well I have a feeling the "bug hunt" in Starship Troopers the movie will probably be closer to how we act.

            Sadly we have a history of not playing well with others, which is why any race we encounter would have to be nuts to share tech with us. While we monkeys may one day reach for the stars, I don't ever see us ever giving up our naturally greedy and aggressive ways. Just give us some nice slogans and patriotic music and we will be "itching to whoop ET's ass sir!" at any moment. We are just wired that way.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by thesandtiger (819476)

              I think largely the possibility of humans being the hostile ones would be about the elimination of competition instead of the scarcity of resources. Frankly, if we have FTL and the attendant technology, we'd be much better off just ripping up stars where there's nobody around to try and stop us from gathering resources.

              By the time we'd run out of stars to use, I'm reasonably sure that "humanity" would have changed to something that we can't even imagine now.

              We may be war mongering assholes, but I think we'r

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by hairyfeet (841228)

                Ahhhh...but you are forgetting one thing friend, and that is Rules of Acquisition [memory-alpha.org] #34 "War is good for business". In war more ships get built, bigger and better weapons are needed, it is good for the economy!

                Never underestimate man's greed, nor his lust for power. Sure we could go somewhere else and get it, but at what cost? Will going somewhere else lower profits by 3%? If so then hell no! It will screw up the quarterly earnings report! Sadly I think Alien 1 & 2 & 3 had it right, with large mega co

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by mcgrew (92797) *

              Sadly we have a history of not playing well with others

              True, but we keep getting better. Most countries have abolished capital punishment, for instance. Governments used to torture people to death. Our history is bloody indeed, but most of us are not the barbarians our anscestors were. Hell, in my own lifetime I've seen improvements in how people treat each other.

              By the time FTL is developed I expect us to be even more civilized.

    • Well, even if other forms come before us, looking at the damage humans do to each other and the environment, I think it's fair to say that there's a good chance that other intelligent species that have already arisen may indeed be extinct if and when we discover them.

      Wouldn't it be sad if we discovered a signal, and we got enough data to analyze it semantically and came up with a translation similar to, "Help; our planet is dying."
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

      You seem to share Hawking's delusion that more intelligence is an inevitable part of the progression of an intelligent species.

      Alas, there really doesn't seem to be much evidence for that. Once you're inte

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by FlyingBishop (1293238)

        There's no reasonable explanation for why they would want to enslave us, or eat us, or otherwise exploit us.

        It's conceivable that they might want to wipe us out and repurpose Earth, as it does have some useful minerals, but especially given our nuclear arsenal and the (minor) headaches that would cause, I don't see why they'd go for Earth over the many uninhabited rocks in the universe. Direct harvesting of solar energy would be far more effective than exploiting us, whatever their goals are. We're far less

        • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:08PM (#30896758) Journal

          There's no reasonable explanation for why they would want to enslave us, or eat us, or otherwise exploit us.

          It's conceivable that they might want to wipe us out and repurpose Earth, as it does have some useful minerals, but especially given our nuclear arsenal and the (minor) headaches that would cause, I don't see why they'd go for Earth over the many uninhabited rocks in the universe. Direct harvesting of solar energy would be far more effective than exploiting us, whatever their goals are. We're far less useful than robots.

          I'm sure the people of South America, with all the environmental problems they were having, probably thought the same. But the Spaniards saw value in stuff that the Incas and Aztecs took for granted. Who's to say that ET won't come here and take a liking to our stocks of salt water for reasons unbeknownst to us?

          • by Cyberax (705495)

            Because it's much easier to mine salt water from gas giants' satellites?

          • by agrif (960591)

            The difference here is that we have nukes, which function well as a sort of universal trump card. It's likely that our arsenal would at least inconvenience them, but it could do much more. Of course, it could also do much less.

            But it wouldn't do much less to our planet. If we saw an unstoppable alien aggressor, we could threaten to nuke ourselves. Sure, we may all die, but it'd still be a major bargaining chip.

            Besides...

            Scientific discovery generally does much better in an open, cooperative society. I'm not

            • I dunno. We were intelligent enough to learn how to calculate longitude, but it didn't make us any more moral.

            • by s0litaire (1205168) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:17PM (#30897596)
              Ah Nukes ourselves!! The good old "Judean People's Front crack suicide squad" Manoeuvre, they'll never see it coming!

              From "Life of Brian"
              Suicide Squad Leader: We are the Judean People's Front crack suicide squad! Suicide squad, attack!
              [they all stab themselves]...That showed 'em, huh?
            • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:20PM (#30897626) Homepage

              The difference here is that we have nukes, which function well as a sort of universal trump card. It's likely that our arsenal would at least inconvenience them, but it could do much more. Of course, it could also do much less.

              Our arsenal as it stands now would be pretty useless for repelling aggressive space invaders. They could just lob chunks of rock at us from high orbit or the moon while being essentially immune to retaliation. Hypothetically we could design rockets designed to carry nuclear warheads that far, but we'd still be at a crazy disadvantage versus the opponent who could just drop things down our gravity well.

              But it wouldn't do much less to our planet. If we saw an unstoppable alien aggressor, we could threaten to nuke ourselves. Sure, we may all die, but it'd still be a major bargaining chip.

              Only if what they wanted was us, or some other aspect of life on earth rather than other resources. But yeah, in some cases threatening suicide can be a useful gambit.

              Scientific discovery generally does much better in an open, cooperative society. I'm not saying that it's impossible without one, just that it proceeds much slower. Space-faring species would very likely have nearly species-wide cooperation in their past.

              Possibly, but that doesn't mean they automatically think of any other species as equals that should be cooperated with, rather than exploited. The scientific advancement and open sharing that characterized The Enlightenment was not extended to the people of places the empires of Enlightenment Europe went and colonized. They could just as easily see us as a bunch of hairless primates who don't deserve to take part in their glorious undertakings.

              Also, the universe doesn't quite seem to be teeming with life, or we'd have seen it by now.

              Way premature to say that. Our solar system isn't teeming with obvious life, but we've only just begun to be able to find exoplanets, and spectroscopy of such planets to find basic aspects of their chemical makeups is in its infancy. We're quite a way from being able to say these planets aren't teeming with life.

              The intellegence needed for space travel almost has to imply a sense of the beauty of the universe, and from there, life.

              Or, the sheer determination and practicality required for space travel -- especially if it's multi-generational sub-light-speed interstellar travel -- could imply a complete dedication to their goals and disregard for any of our silly philosophical objections like "but life is precious!"

              Look at it this way -- sea travel requires quite a bit of intelligence, yet after months of travel people landed on the other shore and their first thought wasn't "wow, look at the beauty of life!", it was "wow, these savages have lots of gold, let's take it!"

              I'd like to think the Golden Rule applies. Maybe that's naive, but interstellar travel is one of the milestones of scientific acheivement. I hope that that implies some moral strength.

              Societal advancement gave the Spaniards a sense of moral strength too.

              I don't think it's at all the case that achieving some milestone in science implies any measure of morality. So in that sense I do think you're being extremely naive. However I may be naive too in that I hope that we can develop moral strength alongside our technological strength, and that we will see beauty in the the universe and in life ourselves. But I don't think it's a given for us, and certainly not for any alien race.

          • Or, they've managed to destroy their planet and would like a replacement unencumbered by us.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Mandelbrot-5 (471417)

            Earth may have resources that are "useful," however all the stuff we have on earth is found further out of the Sun's gravity well. Main belt asteroids have more heavy metals than earth, and you don't need to crawl out of a deep well to remove them from the solar system. And if you are only after water and gases, the oort cloud has more than enough that the cost to weight of getting the minuscule amount we have here on earth just isn't worth the energy. The ONLY reasons I can see for a hostile race to wor

        • There's no reasonable explanation for why they would want to enslave us, or eat us, or otherwise exploit us.

          They may have no interest at all in enslaving us, eating us, or exploiting us.

          Which wouldn't stop them from deciding that they could make better use of Earth than we are (better from their point of view).

          On the other hand, who's to say that your average ET is "reasonable" (by human standards)? Just because YOU can't think of a reason they might want to enslave us, exploit us, or eat us, doesn't mea

        • by melikamp (631205)

          Direct harvesting of solar energy would be far more effective than exploiting us, whatever their goals are. We're far less useful than robots.

          I had a thought recently: the first alien contact may be with a robot drone. Look at us: we are freaking mammals. What are we going to do in space? The Solar system exploration is done principally by robots right now, because they are that much better adapted to the conditions in space. A Mars rover rolls around, takes pictures, chips away rock, and shouts across hundreds of thousands of miles, and the only thing it eats is photons. Human beings, on the other hand, require a complex ecosystem producing all

      • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:05PM (#30896706) Homepage Journal

        If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

        You seem to share Hawking's delusion that more intelligence is an inevitable part of the progression of an intelligent species.

        Which is clearly wrong. Crocodiles, for example are as smart as they need to be. I think early humans were trapped into a (say) software intensive architecture. They had these tools (fingers, eyes, etc) which could only be used for survival by a powerful brain. So there was selection pressure for intelligence, but only because our peripherals (so to speak) had previously developed into general purpose tools.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Kjella (173770)

          So there was selection pressure for intelligence, but only because our peripherals (so to speak) had previously developed into general purpose tools.

          Why would there be selection pressure for general purpose tools in a creature too dumb to use it? I find it more plausible that a specialized creature initially developed intelligence because it'd make it a better specialist but slowly evolved into being more flexible than specialized.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Zerth (26112)

            Runaway feedback. Specialists are frequently dumb as posts, but a dumb generalist will be outcompeted by a dumb specialist in its element. A smart specialist may be able to move when its environment changes, but it will likely be less effective than a generalist anywhere else.

            A more general bodytype requires a more flexible mind to overcome a specialist. A more flexible mind is more effective with a more general bodytype than a specialist bodytype.

            Iterate.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Alas, there really doesn't seem to be much evidence for that. Once you're intelligent enough, in general, to use the machines that your tiny fraction of geniuses comes up with, the impetus towards more intelligence pretty much evaporates. After all, how much intelligence does it really take to do 95+% of all the things required to make a technological civilization work?

        Actually work tends to require much more intelligence than before, before doing manual labor was an typical way to make a living with hardly no education or intelligence. Most of that is gone, replaced by things like operating advanced tractors and lumber machines and whatnot. But there's no reproduction pressure, in fact the poorest and lowest educated (not necessarily the same as intelligence, but bright people don't usually end up that way) are the ones breeding the most.

        • Actually work tends to require much more intelligence than before, before doing manual labor was an typical way to make a living with hardly no education or intelligence. Most of that is gone, replaced by things like operating advanced tractors and lumber machines and whatnot.

          While digging a ditch certainly doesn't require vast intelligence, it's fairly hard to demonstrate that someone who makes a chair with handtools is necessarily less intelligent than someone who runs the machine that makes chairs.

          Note,

      • by Catiline (186878)

        You seem to share Hawking's delusion that more intelligence is an inevitable part of the progression of an intelligent species. Alas, there really doesn't seem to be much evidence for that.

        As long as you think of intelligence as "that which is measured by a IQ test", then yes. However, if you think of intelligence as being the entire spectrum of mental activity (including such other, non– or poorly–tested factors such as memory building or new concept synthesis) then our current pace of technolo

    • I personally think SETI is misguided, even though its aims are commendable. There probably is intelligent life out there...

      Screw that, we should be looking for intelligent life down here. Mankind is misguided, it's not simply limited to SETI.

    • If there are super-advanced aliens out there that want to kill everyone, they will do so. Might as well get it over with. If there are super-advanced aliens that want to help, let them. I want my utopia free of disease and poverty. I say: proceed with the search!

    • by PitaBred (632671)

      I'm just amazed SETI gets so much money. I know of no other projects that have burned through so much money just to produce a whole bunch of nothing by way of results.

    • by LUH 3418 (1429407) <maximechevalierb&gmail,com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:31PM (#30897072)
      >> First is the limited range; nobody more than around 150 light years away would be able to detect intelligent life on earth.

      I have to agree with that one. It seems somewhat futile given the extremely low odds of detection. Furthermore, it seems hard to imagine we could really have meaningful exchanges with a civilization hundreds of lightyears away. That being said, if we ever did discover evidence of alien intelligence elsewhere in the universe, it would change alot of things here on earth. It would give a huge morale boost to many science fields, for one.

      >> they may turn out to be hostile

      Someone else said that "there is no reason to assume they wouldn't be hostile. I would say there is. Whenever I see the Klingon on Star Trek act in violent and barbaric ways, I wonder if it really is realistic to assume such a society could ever compete with a more "peaceful" one like the federation, on the technological level. If your society is full of violent individuals, places "being a strong warrior" above everything else, and you can get randomly killed at any time, I think that slows down scientific progress alot. In my opinion, individuals need to be "peaceful" enough for society to be rather stable in order for science to progress. Furthermore, a scientifically advanced society would probably realize that there is not much point in simply eradicating other life forms "for fun".

      >> and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc.

      I wouldn't worry too much about that either. If they actually are capable of getting here, it means they can get to any other nearby star. They probably have already mastered things like nuclear fusion, in which case, you know, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Energy itself, in this universe, is abundant. THE resource we have that is worth something is the earth itself, but it's only worth something to aliens, in my opinion, if they are biologically similar to us (breathe oxygen, similar temperature tolerances, etc.). Again, however, I would argue that if they have the capability of getting here, they are probably not "starved" in terms of energy. They would probably be capable of building themselves a new planet next to ours.

      >> They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

      I find that idea rather ridiculous. We are sentient. Do you think there is something such as being "supersentient"?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mab_Mass (903149)

        I find that idea rather ridiculous. We are sentient. Do you think there is something such as being "supersentient"?

        I think that I can take it for granted that humans are much smarter than dogs. Even so, dogs have some rudimentary intelligence. They learn that by listening to some human language or by standing next to the box of dog treats, they can get food. They can also figure out things like opening refrigerators, etc.

        The point that the earlier post was making is that it is possible that any aliens

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        Whenever I see the Klingon on Star Trek act in violent and barbaric ways, I wonder if it really is realistic to assume such a society could ever compete with a more "peaceful" one like the federation, on the technological level.

        Most of mankinds greatest technological advances have come from warfare. Even the computer, originally developed to compute ballistics. We'd never have gone to the moon had it not been for the "cold war".

        I find that idea rather ridiculous. We are sentient. Do you think there is somet

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642)

      First is the limited range; nobody more than around 150 light years away would be able to detect intelligent life on earth.

      I assume you're basing that on the venerable Kraus and his graphs showing how far away we could detect analog TV AM video carriers, etc.

      Three problems:

      1) Kraus never got into exotic modulation techniques that work at lower SNR. We can probably get a better range if we try.

      2) Kraus assumed we'd continue transmitting those nice constant television AM carrier signals. We stopped some years ago. Ooops. Appears the lifetime of AM carrier transmission is vaguely around one century, not "forever".

      3) Per Kraus'

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        I assume you're basing that on the venerable Kraus and his graphs showing how far away we could detect analog TV AM video carriers, etc.

        No, I'm referring to the speed of light. We've only been transmitting for a century or two, so there is no way anyone farther than two hundred light years out could get a signal from us.

        If the sun exploded you wouldn't know it for eight minutes. If Alpha Centari exploded you wouldn't know it for four years.

    • If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

      I think it's rather unlikely that they would be hostile or have any need for anything here that they couldn't get more easily closer to home. It's much more likely that they would be less aggressive than us, as any intelligent species is going to pass through a period when their technology is advanced enough to exterminate themselves (intentionally or unintentionally) before it is advanced enough to colonize other worlds. That should act as at least a partial natural filter on starfaring assholes.

      The thing

  • ...or alien for "First Post". Or, most likely second or third.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      No, you made it. The Alpha Centaurians start counting at two, that's how they were able to discover faster than light travel.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Ziggle-Blop-Beep-BOON is "First Post"

      What you said is "Cram your primary sensory and cognitive protusion into your the nearest available waste orifice".

      NOT cool man. You trying to start an interstellar war? Inaccuracy kills.

  • Lasers, Xrays, etc. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:33PM (#30896166) Homepage Journal

    I'm no expert on this, but it seems to me that radio waves may likely be obsolete to advanced civilizations. They are quite possibly using something like lasers, x-rays, gravity waves, etc. True, if they are in the same stage we are, they may be using lots of the radio spectrum, but that greatly limits the kind and number of civilizations we may detect. Looking for something like a Dyson Sphere (star-orbiting solar arrays) may be a more productive approach, or at least a good supplement.

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:42PM (#30896338) Homepage

      We have a decent enough understanding of the laws of physics to have a good idea what would be a useful method of communication and what wouldn't be. For example, you list X-rays. But X-rays are much higher energy than radiowaves so are impractical. Lasers, which you also list, only work if you have a very precisely aimed beam. Unfortunately, when you are talking about distance of lightyears, a tiny bit off and your laser would be useless. (Incidentally, for technical reasons a maser rather than a laser would actually probably work better for this purpose). Even if they are using precisely aimed lasers, we won't be able to detect. Gravity waves are not going to be very good to send signals because they are incredibly hard to detect so even if you had a good way of making them, (which would also potentially lead to other cool stuff like anti-grav tech and potentially warp drive like technology) they would likely be extremely low bandwith. And we would have likely detected them by now in our searches for gravity waves.

      It isn't clear how we would go about detecting things like a Dyson sphere so that suggestion is out. There are some potential signs of large scale solar system construction that we can hypothesize. However, of those we could search for, we don't see any of them. Radio waves remain our best hope for finding signs of other civilizations.

      • by molo (94384)

        How to detect a dyson sphere? Look for the waste heat. Will be bright in the infrared.

        -molo

        • How to detect a dyson sphere? Look for the waste heat. Will be bright in the infrared.

          -molo

          Yes - completely unlike a star...

        • How to detect a dyson sphere? Look for the waste heat. Will be bright in the infrared.

          You mean, like a red dwarf, or a brown dwarf?

      • We have a decent enough understanding of the laws of physics to have a good idea what would be a useful method of communication and what wouldn't be. For example, you list X-rays. But X-rays are much higher energy than radiowaves so are impractical.

        For us, perhaps but is there a reason why their higher energy makes them less useful? Do they disperse more readiily?

        Lasers, which you also list, only work if you have a very precisely aimed beam. Unfortunately, when you are talking about distance of lightyears, a tiny bit off and your laser would be useless. (Incidentally, for technical reasons a maser rather than a laser would actually probably work better for this purpose). Even if they are using precisely aimed lasers, we won't be able to detect.

        Obviously ET probably wouldn't use lasers in their own SETI programme, but using them doesn't mean you aren't sophisticated. Their characteristics will prove handy when you want covert communication too. We probably won't detect a laser/maser message from the stars, but that doesn't suggest that ET can't be using them

        Gravity waves are not going to be very good to send signals because they are incredibly hard to detect so even if you had a good way of making them, (which would also potentially lead to other cool stuff like anti-grav tech and potentially warp drive like technology) they would likely be extremely low bandwith. And we would have likely detected them by now in our searches for gravity waves.

        Again, just because it's difficult for us doesn't mean it is for them. You suggest that gravity wave tech. would lead to AG and other wonderful things, if that were the case I don't think a gravity wave detector would be too difficult to put together (even easier in space)

        It isn't clear how we would go about detecting things like a Dyson sphere so that suggestion is out. There are some potential signs of large scale solar system construction that we can hypothesize. However, of those we could search for, we don't see any of them. Radio waves remain our best hope for finding signs of other civilizations.

        Right on. Radio is probably it, and as I understand it a Dyson sphere is going to be very hard to find indeed. Perhaps that's intentional.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Lasers and x-rays are EMF; they ARE radio waves and do not travel faster than light (most lasers are visible light). The last I read they haven't proven the existance of gravity waves yet. However, maybe they've figured out how to carry a broadcast using neutrinos?

    • Unless I'm mistaken - SETI would look through more than just the radio waves, but most the electromagnetic spectrum (again, not entirely certain about that).

      Lasers are essentially light being modified, so that still falls into the ElectroMagnetic spectrum. Same with X-rays.

      Gravity waves however, require a substantial amount of advanced technology to actually alter them to be used in forms of communication. And Einstein theorized that they travel at the same speed of light, so its not necessarily more effici

    • SETI assumes that aliens will be actively trying to be found, they look at the frequencies they do because they are either A) Fundemental values that are important to physics, B) Able to penetrate the interstellar medium well, or preferably C) both. I believe the most commonly inspected frequencies have something to do with the physical properties of Hydrogen, such that they would be discovered by a technological society and also penetrate interstellar gas well.

      I believe there have been a few surveys done

    • My bet would be for spooky-action-at-a-distance for covering interstellar (and likely interplanetary) distances, and most likely something in the RF spectrum for "local". It's just too convienient.

      Don't forget, we are using lasers to communicate too.

      • by jpmorgan (517966)

        Despite what Mass Effect 2 tells you, "spooky action at a distance" (i.e., quantum entanglement) carries no information, and cannot be used as a communications medium.

    • by seriv (698799)
      On of the central assumptions in SETI is that another civilization is broadcasting strong radio waves at the Earth continuously, something we don't do for anywhere. The assumption is that this other civilization will starting using radio mostly for this purpose of being found.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pz (113803)

      I'm no expert on this, but it seems to me that radio waves may likely be obsolete to advanced civilizations. They are quite possibly using something like lasers, x-rays, gravity waves, etc. True, if they are in the same stage we are, they may be using lots of the radio spectrum, but that greatly limits the kind and number of civilizations we may detect. Looking for something like a Dyson Sphere (star-orbiting solar arrays) may be a more productive approach, or at least a good supplement.

      I'm not an expert at long-range radio transmission, but I have worked in signal detection. One of the basic tenets of SETI is the observation that the Earth has been a huge transmitting station for some decades now, thanks to Radio and Television, and that goldarnit, if we're inadvertently transmitting to outer space, then we ought to be able to listen to some other planet doing the same thing.

      Except that if you can't focus an antenna to one very very small part of the earth, radio and television stations

    • Would lasers work for interstellar communication?

      I rather imagine it would be something like sending semaphore signals from one merry go round to someone on a different merry go round who can't read semaphore signals.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The fundamental failing of SETI is that they assume other civilizations will needlessly emit EM radiation in the same fashion we do. It's as naive as assuming that life will only exist on planets that are nearly earth-like.

    • Starting with what you know isn't such a bad thing. We have only one proven model for the time being.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      EM radiation happens to be just about the only thing that propagates across the distances necessary to investigate even neighboring stars. If there was an alien civilization out there that did not emit EM radiation, then there is no reasonable way to detect it.

    • by ALeavitt (636946)
      We look for earth-like worlds for the simple reason that water is the universal solvent. Liquid water makes possible a great deal of chemical and, ultimately, biological processes that aren't possible otherwise. We search for earth-like worlds because they are far and away the most likely to be able to support any type of life, not because of naïveté.
  • I have mixed feelings about that 500AU telescope. Using our own sun as a gravitational lens is very clever... but 500AU... even getting a telescope out that far (within a reasonable amount of time) would be an enormous challenge. By the time we have the technology to build such a thing, and be able to aim it arbitrarily, I'm confident we'll already have sent probes to nearby stars.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      By the time we can send something(s) 500AU away and can use them in tandem with the Sun, we'll have sent something 266877.442+AU away?
      • by jpmorgan (517966)

        'And be able to aim it arbitrarily'

        As the commenter below you points out, at that distance a purely unpowered telescope would take millenia to traverse a single orbit. And that's just a single orbital plane. If you want to point this thing at an arbitrary point, and take less than a hundred thousand years to do so, you're talking a level of technology which could take you to another star easily.

    • by molo (94384)

      500AU = 69.3 light-hours. The orbit of pluto is "only" 49.3AU at its furthest, and it takes pluto 248 years to orbit the sun. Indeed, 500 AU is quite far, and it will only be able to view stars on the opposite side of the sun. So to see much of the sky, it will have to wait for it to come into view. The orbit will take millennia.

      -molo

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:37PM (#30896266)

    I never thought I'd be one of the people who'd say this, but the vast resources we'd need to put a radio telescope on the far side of the moon would probably better be devoted to making sure that the Earth remains habitable. Later, when we're not at risk of drowning in our own pollutants, then let's go back to looking for aliens.

    Besides, it'll be a lot less embarrassing if, when we find alien intelligence, we don't have to explain to them why we're committing collective suicide.

    • by escay (923320)
      Perhaps we may find alien intelligence that has been through what we are going through, and will be able to offer solutions on how to cope with our global problems, based on their experience?

      When I think of alien intelligence, I am really thinking of the 'intelligence' part. Finding a race that is more intelligent than us is, in a way, like finding ourselves at a point in the future. We may be able to realize several notions that if left to ourselves would take us too much time, effort and irreconcilable

    • > the vast resources we'd need to put a radio telescope
      > on the far side of the moon would probably better be
      > devoted to making sure that the Earth remains habitable

      I think you're right, but R&D must go on.

      Why is it that we (even slashdotters) tend to pit funding space exploration against funding wholesome projects like feeding the hungry or saving the environment? Why don't we argue that it would be better to spend money on space exploration than to, say, wage elective wars, or bail out fail

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ivan_w (1115485)

      Earth *WILL* remain habitable (maybe not by us though) probably for at least the next 1B years. Earth has sustained numerous catastrophic life annihilating events (major meteor strikes, giants volcanoes, etc..) and *YET* life remained. I very much doubt the amounts of CO2 we release or how much we curtail biodiversity (it will recover once we are gone) will be more threatening than a global instantaneous event.

      Look at how hard we try to eradicate some basic forms of life (and some say they aren't even "aliv

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      I think it would be a lot funnier if we made the huge investment, made contact, and sent them a message--only to get back the reply "Leave us alone."
    • by metamatic (202216)

      Besides, it'll be a lot less embarrassing if, when we find alien intelligence, we don't have to explain to them why we're committing collective suicide.

      Once they look at what we're like as a species, they'll understand.

  • "Then there’s the ongoing shift from broadcast (which necessarily uses a small number of very powerful transmitters) to unicast media like cellphones; there isn’t the slightest chance you could even tell there was a cellphone network on the ground from space, since the frequencies are reused on a radius of less than 25 km; from a lightyear away picking out a single base station would require an unfeasibly large aperture (which would be no good for a sky search unless you had a ridiculously long time to perform it)."

    Copied verbatim from Electron Pusher, Fermi's Non-Paradox [electronpusher.org]

  • He's certainly not lacking in ambition. But I'm wondering where he thinks he's going to get the money to finance some of these ambitious ideas. Somehow, I doubt the private sector is going to be interested in a project that will never show a profit, and the government isn't really in a position to be funding frivolous projects with marginal chances of success. Maybe he can talk the Chinese into footing the bill?

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      He's certainly not lacking in ambition. But I'm wondering where he thinks he's going to get the money to finance some of these ambitious ideas.

      Huh? There was funding enough for TWO giant gyroscopes. Government coalitions and one really rich dude. Someone wasn't paying attention in history class.

      • He's certainly not lacking in ambition. But I'm wondering where he thinks he's going to get the money to finance some of these ambitious ideas.

        Huh? There was funding enough for TWO giant gyroscopes. Government coalitions and one really rich dude. Someone wasn't paying attention in history class.

        SOMEONE has been watching too much of Jodie Foster...

    • by Vohar (1344259)

      Same as anyone else with an idea--Pitch it as elegantly and emotionally as possible and hope some rich dudes like the sound of it enough to invest.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:42PM (#30896336) Journal

    Part of the ambitious plan is to TRIPLE the number of sentient life forms discovered by SETI with five years.

  • by viking80 (697716) on Monday January 25, 2010 @05:48PM (#30896450) Journal

    The problem with intelligent civilizations is that a few decades after they achieve a technological level where they can make powerful radios to talk to galactic neighbors, they also invariably build particle accelerators. These accelerators soon make micro black holes that eat up the planet and the not-so-intelligent civilization with it. Only 0.1% of intelligent civilizations survive by colonizing a nearby planet before the particle accelerator is turned on.

    So instead of finding a strong community of star systems in a 50 lightyear radius, we will probably have to look 500 l.y. away and wait 1000 years with the hadron collider turned off.

  • If it turns out there is no possible way that we can move faster than light would there be any purpose to contact alien worlds?

    • by bazorg (911295)
      to play chess.
    • by Vohar (1344259) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:10PM (#30896792)

      I'd say simply answering the question "Are we alone in the universe?" would be noteworthy enough for both civilizations to make the whole thing worthwhile. It's not often you get an answer to one of the fundamental mystery questions like that.

      It's up there with "What happens to us after we die?" and "Is there a God?" Sure, people have their beliefs and opinions, but to actually KNOW...

    • They are broadcasting their wikipedia so that the universe may benefit.

      • They are broadcasting their wikipedia so that the universe may benefit.

        But what are we going to do with a database of alien anime?

      • by Jeng (926980)

        That could prove interesting, but what if we have the same problem with language that we have when trying to communicate with other animals?

        Why even to understand ancient Egyptian we needed a cheat sheet.

    • by Skal Tura (595728)

      Definitely, to exchange information and resources, ie. trade. Albeit likely in our respective cultures already ancient when it arrives to them, and vice-versa, there is still very high chance we both have something of value to exchange, even technologically.

      Nevermind resources, maybe they have a severe lack of gold, but have plenty of titanium to exchange. Eventually the transport will be cheap enough to justify such an huge distance trade. And how about the chance just to understand other life forms?

      Saying

      • by Jeng (926980)

        Saying there won't be any purpose is not the same as asking if there won't be any purpose. I had my own ideas about the usefulness of communicating outside of our solar system with no possibility of FTL, but I wanted to see what other people could come up with.

        I'm doubtful about interstellar trade if there is no FTL. In the time period it may take to trade with other solar systems we could very well master alchemy. And even communication has an expiration date in that we could very well obtain the answer

  • by SilverHatHacker (1381259) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:09PM (#30896766)
    "The surest sign that intelligent life exists is that none of it has tried to contact us."
    --Calvin and Hobbes

    Let's see here:
    Believing in other power/advanced being - check
    Lack of observable scientific evidence supporting it - check
    Only evidence we have = legends and word-of-mouth stories about strange encounters - check
    See? Religion and science can co-exist!
    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:50PM (#30897248)

      Richard Dawkins wrote that not being able to prove or disprove something does not prevent you from assigning probabilities. There is observable scientific evidence supporting ET life: There is a huge number of stars, some similar to ours, some with planets like ours. We can't prove (yet) there is ET life, but we can say it is possible and even probable. Floating Bearded Guys in the Sky on the other hand, don't have even that.

  • by rdmiller3 (29465) on Monday January 25, 2010 @06:39PM (#30897164) Journal
    On the plus side, SETI's record for filtering extraterrestrial spam has been flawless.

"The medium is the message." -- Marshall McLuhan

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