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Communications Space

SETI Is 50 Years Old; No Sign of ET 454

Posted by timothy
from the they-live-among-us dept.
EagleHasLanded writes "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is 50 years old next month, and still no sign of intelligent alien life. Paul Davies of the Beyond Center (also Chairman of the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup) says it's time to re-think and expand the search for ET."
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SETI Is 50 Years Old; No Sign of ET

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  • Patience! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:10PM (#31476158)
    We are trying to find signs of intelligent life off the Earth. Give it some time, people. And try to become civilized yourselves.
  • by Mr804 (12397) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:10PM (#31476166) Homepage Journal
  • by headkase (533448) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:14PM (#31476196)
    As we ourselves transition to all digital-communications and the associated low-transmission-power-levels we will fall off the radar for other civilizations detecting us too. That little blip of 100 years of analog full-blast will not been seen by anyone else either. This is in addition to the numbers associated with space: it is big, fricken' big and long in time. The last civilization anywhere near enough to us to be detected probably went extinct around 100 million years ago and in another 2 million years until humanity goes extinct the next civilization close enough to pick us up probably won't develop technology for another 60 million years... Missed in the night. But imagine in your mind an alien on an alien world because those same numbers say that it is a logical certainty that they exist.
  • After 50 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:15PM (#31476210)
    50 years out of 13.75 ±0.17 billion years? People need to study orders of magnitude [youtube.com] before they get on SETI's case about not finding anything exciting. As with most scientific institutions of our day, the general populace/government's don't seem to care unless they see whizbangpops REAL-SOON-NOW.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:19PM (#31476244)

    Being a pessimist is easy.

    Saying "I told you so" when something goes wrong isn't backing up prophecy, it's being an asshole.

    Try being an optimist once in a while, you might be happier.

  • Re:After 50 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilguido (1704434) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:20PM (#31476250) Homepage

    People need to study orders of magnitude [youtube.com] before they get on SETI's case about not finding anything exciting.

    Better not: they'd know that SETI is useless and a waste of money.

  • by rotide (1015173) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:24PM (#31476292)

    I see lots of posts that seem to miss the point. The mere _finding_ of an ET would be _dramatic_ for our civilization. Think of all the things that would change (not all religious).

    If we can ever _prove_ we're not alone out here, I honestly believe it could sway the attitudes and priorities of many governments. I mean, honestly, if we know there is another alien life out there, that we could potentially communicate with, how many stupid squabbles would end?

    Right now, we only worry about ourselves because, well, that's all there is to worry about. The prospect of learning from another civilization, or even just being afraid and try to "defend" ourselves from them (sad, but you never know what spin governments would put on a finding like that) could be utterly revolutionary.

    Then again, so many people would dis-believe due to religious and/or conspiratorial reasons would probably be mind boggling.

  • by ezratrumpet (937206) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:33PM (#31476362) Journal
    We generally view the Stone Age tribes still lingering in the world as worthy of monitoring from a distance. Perhaps we occasionally intervening with some sort of sustenance or relief if it won't really mess them up, but all in all, we leave them alone rather than turn their world upside down.

    With that in mind, how would a civilization sufficiently advanced to travel here from Alpha Centauri view our civilization?

    "Mostly harmless."

    "We'll give them a little longer. When they manage to visit the rest of the neighborhood - maybe when they're able to travel to another planet in their little solar system - we'll say hello. As long as we use short words and simple sentences, we might be able to help them understand speed-of-light travel."

    "Okay. But if they start shooting those cute little firecrackers at us, I'm throwing a marble [read: black hole] into the middle of their little planet."
  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:40PM (#31476430) Homepage Journal

    even just being afraid and try to "defend" ourselves from them (sad, but you never know what spin governments would put on a finding like that)

    Government spin? That's the primary purpose for which we should be looking.

    Where does this idea of the peaceful alien come from? There has never been mutual cooperation between civilizations or species competing for the same resources. Among civilizations, it has always resulted in destruction or subjugation of the less technologically advanced civilization. We need to be keeping our ears open and our mouths shut.

  • Re:After 50 years? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kjella (173770) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:53PM (#31476546) Homepage

    Why couldn't an advanced civilization try to ping us every 1000 years or so and see if anyone responds? It's not like it has to be stray TV signals. To me it seems a reasonable thing to do if we start discovering Earth-like exoplanets, sure we'll try more often at first but it's not like we're going to ask "Has intelligent life evolved now?" every five minutes. Narrow beam, high power, simple signal, the kind that should be easy for SETI to detect if there's a big enough antenna pointing in the right direction at the right time. But if they're run by people like you, I suppose nobody will be there to listen...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:57PM (#31476582)
    Counterpoint:

    If ANY civilisation made it to the space travel phase, then then our galaxy the milky way should be colonized in 1, 10, or 100 million years as it is 100,000 ly across, so these times are for 1%, 0.1% and 0.01% of lightspeed travel assuming worst case scenario of outer rim origin.

    Of course this still leaves the options

    • Interstellar travel is harder still, or even impossible as everything gets obliterated beyond the oort cloud
    • Civilisations have a tendency to self destruct
    • They are here and they don't want to interfere
    • We truly are the first!

    If we are not the first, I would love to read the discussions of the species that eventually did find out they were the first!

  • by agwis (690872) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:57PM (#31476584)

    A significant number of the population doesn't even believe we landed on the moon. Should SETI ever detect artificial radio transmissions then the arguing, debates, and conspiracy theories that would abound are unfathomable!

    We can't even agree that we landed on the moon. How are we going to convince the world when we discover an ET version of 'Star Trek'? ;)

  • by vadim_t (324782) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:06PM (#31476674) Homepage

    Where does this idea of the peaceful alien come from? There has never been mutual cooperation between civilizations or species competing for the same resources. Among civilizations, it has always
    resulted in destruction or subjugation of the less technologically advanced civilization. We need to be keeping our ears open and our mouths shut.

    I think that if anything can show up here and say hi they probably don't need anything from us. Unless they come from Proxima Centauri they can probably find whatever they need much closer, and sending anything from here back wherever they came from is probably mind boggingly expensive in energy expenditures.

    For instance take the lack of interest in mining asteroids or the moon. We probably could if we had a good reason to, but it's so expensive it's not worth it.

  • Re:Patience! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by madmarcel (610409) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:08PM (#31476700)
    Just to clear up this common misconception:

    Whales are not as intelligent as you may have been led to believe, in fact quite the opposite...ask any marine biologist.
  • by maxume (22995) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:13PM (#31476748)

    There's nothing subjective about pretending that the Maya calendar ends in 2012, it is pure stupidity.

    You might as well imagine that our calendar predicts the end of the world in 9999.

  • Re:After 50 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jonadab (583620) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:17PM (#31476780) Homepage Journal
    I've got a better idea. Why don't we take the money we've been spending on SETI, and put it toward a research program that produces some information occasionally.

    I'm not asking for information with proven immediate practical value. Pure research can prove to be valuable later, in unanticipated ways. I understand that. But that's assuming that there's actual *research* going on.

    Scientific research is constructed so that you find out *something*, even if it isn't what you'd hoped the answer would be. That's the scientific method. Even if your experiment fails, you *learn* something from it. SETI, however, is not set up that way. SETI is designed up to keep on promising, year after year, decade after decade, that maybe *next* year we'll find [the desired answer -- and there is only one result SETI is interested in finding]. No premise is tested and proven, disproven, or revised. Ever.

    Calling SETI science is intellectually dishonest. SETI is politics, and a boondoggle.

    (Granted, it's not a very BIG boondoggle, because it's not all that MUCH money. But every penny of the money spent on it is wasted.)
  • by thoughtspace (1444717) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:18PM (#31476792)

    Unless the ETs blew the shit out of each other.

  • by Obyron (615547) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:19PM (#31476812)
    It's taken us this long to be here. Who's to say there's not another intelligent species out there who is just now coming into space travel, but is already depressed because the Xorblat Paradox says searching for alien life is probably a waste of time. The Fermi Paradox is still incredibly short-sighted. It's very hard to draw meaningful conclusions from negative evidence, otherwise we'd have put this whole "God" thing to rest a long time ago.
  • by Gerafix (1028986) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:24PM (#31476848)
    There are many possibilities. One possibility is that a rogue Artificial Intelligence, perhaps just a civ that jumped to machines, is sweeping through the galaxy searching for technologically advanced lifeforms and razing them. Or the machines spread beacons throughout the galaxy to detect advanced lifeforms and once detected the machines send out ruthlessly efficient constructs to cure the system from the disease that is life.
  • Re:Patience! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eihab (823648) * on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:27PM (#31476876)

    Why don't start trying to find signs of intelligent life on Earth? Intelligence don't have to mean technology, and some species right here (dolphins? whales?) could be as intelligent or more than us, but while we see intelligence as use of tools we will keep ignoring them.

    We are already doing that though. The way I see it, we all have an "itch that we scratch". I'm into computers and my wife on the other hand is into anthropology/history.

    As a species, I think we're doing pretty good. We have researchers in all sorts of fields. It's true that I don't care so much about the past, and as far as my wife is concerned, HTML5 doesn't mean anything.

    But collectively we're actively seeking knowledge and forms of intelligence to enhance our lives, be it our ancestors, map/reduce, or dolphins in the ocean.

    I appreciate SETI as much as I appreciate Jane Goodall [wikipedia.org], and in some sense they're both doing the same thing only in different contexts.

    So, to sum it up (tl;dr): We are already doing that, and we will keep doing it :)

  • by unity100 (970058) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @09:33PM (#31477424) Homepage Journal

    the concept behind this is too arrogant and in its ultimate consequence, stupid.

    it assumes that any civilization should develop technology in the way we did, and have the same values as we do. ie, think mathematic is universal, and try to communicate over mathematical patterns and regular expressions that repeat themselves. even if they do, it is still extremely naive to expect the radio waves to reach here without losing their precise nature, or getting garbled due to innumerable sources of interference.

  • by east coast (590680) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @10:07PM (#31477618)
    As it has been mentioned here a few times; the people involved with SETI have no illusions of finding ET on his cell phone. It's about the concept that maybe there are civilizations sending out a signal that is meant for no other reason than to be a beacon to others. We've already done it ourselves, we just don't do it on a regular basis.

    In any case, we will more likely observe life on their planet via chemical analysis of their atmosphere long before they get a signal from us. Given the leaps and bounds that extrasolar planet discovery has happened in the last decade, I'm guessing that we will know a great deal about the possibility of Earth-like life being on any planet within a thousand light years of us before our radio signals travel a tenth of that distance. If we find a planet that displays the chemical make up of life there is a high chance someone will start beaming it with radio signals but we will probably have the ability to actively observe the life on that planet long before the signal ever gets to them.

    So is SETI really going to prove anything we won't know much more about in the next couple of decades? Doubtful. But if we do detect signals from another planet using the SETI project it will probably mean that they know we're here and they're reaching out to us for better or for worse.
  • by BikeHelmet (1437881) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @10:14PM (#31477672) Journal

    Unfortunately, your post has a pitfall also covered in your post:

    At first the idea of slaves but robots can do the job cheaper and faster.

    Sufficiently advanced robots would make better soldiers than us.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @10:37PM (#31477816) Homepage

    > Of course if FTL is really impossible then the whole idea is pretty
    > pointless, and remote civilizations will never contact each other.

    You assume they are short lived and impatient.

  • Re:Patience! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by telomerewhythere (1493937) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @10:48PM (#31477898)

    At least human males don't kill their stepchildren.

    [citation needed]

  • Re:After 50 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @11:05PM (#31478042) Homepage Journal

    Discovery of extra-solar life would be exciting and novel, but as far as the fate of Humanity is concerned it wouldn't be terribly useful

    It would be far more useful than any religion or political ideology has ever been in demonstrating the futility of internecine war and in encouraging the development of high technology.

  • Weak (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlackHawk-666 (560896) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @11:25PM (#31478136) Homepage

    It seems to me we're unlikely to find aliens and they are unlikely to find us. The distances between us and possible life are extreme and there's a whole universe of stars, black holes, radiation clouds, and other forms of interference in the way.

    Are you seriously counting on those old AM/FM radio transmissions making a direct line through space-time to a planet 140 billion light years away? Let's look at what can go wrong. Assume the Earth has a bunch of weak transmitters which occasionally fire information into space - this will already be a weak version of a weak signal since it's gone through our atmosphere, clouds, etc.

    1. This signal is subject to inverse-square law. By the time it's left our own solar system the signal is infinitesimal.
    2. The earth itself will obscure more than 50% of all the signals as it rotates.
    3. Signals will be shot straight into our sun or pass close enough to either bend into it's gravity or have it's course dramatically altered.
    4. There's billions of other suns which will do the same thing as it passes by.
    5. Signals will slowly approach chaos, and be in-detectable from background radiation.
    6. Their receivers will be expecting more powerful signals and our will pass "under the radar".

    There's likely a million other ways for a signal which is designed to bounce off our atmosphere to become lost in space as it tries to make it from here...to there, whereever there is. Don't expect contact any time soon.

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @11:33PM (#31478170) Homepage

    I agree with the parent post. ET may not be friendly at all.

    they can probably find whatever they need much closer, and sending anything from here back wherever they came from is probably mind boggingly expensive in energy expenditures.

    I'm sure that's what the Spanish thought in 1492 too. The human race is the most intelligent on Earth. But when you think about it, are actions are someone irrational. What makes you think ET wouldn't have irrational behavior as well?

  • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Monday March 15, 2010 @12:47AM (#31478472)

    You miss the point of the Fermi Paradox entirely. Given that humans have only been in existence on earth for 200K Years, why is it that no aliens have colonised Earth *before* we got here? It would take only one expansionist alien culture to exist in the billions of years the galaxy has existed before us and the Earth and the entire galaxy would have been well and truely colonized already.

    I mean some relatively straight-forward extrapolations of humans shows *us* colonizing the galaxy in a few million years.

    Basically the Fermi paradox says, they are *no* other intelligent civilizations in the galaxy otherwise we would have had dramatic evidence on Earth.

    Still I see no particular harm in continuing to look. If something were found it would be a monumental breakthrough.

    Even more importantly, why does everyone think Fermi's paradox is well posed?

    There's also a really simple explanation: The astronomical distances separating Earth from other stars require astronomical amounts of energy and/or astronomical amounts of time cross. Maybe accessing this amount of energy and time is just too improbable for any civilization. We could play some games with the Drake equation and "prove" this, but we'd be extrapolating into bullshit-land. Of course, that is where the current Drake equation parameters are anyway.

    But even if this barrier could be crossed, consider advanced aliens that develop the means access such a large amount of energy and to travel such great distances. Let's say that life is so common that they are able to come across millions of other life forms. Chances are, those life forms will be much more primitive than they are. After you have "discovered" a few million primitive life forms are you really going to visit them all? Or would you rather use your time more efficiently, and ignore the life forms that are much less primitive that you and only visit the ones that are near or above your level of sophistication? When was the last time you talked to the ants in your backyard on the way to hang out with your girlfriend?

    I am guessing that even advanced aliens don't have infinite time and energy at their tentacle tips. They're not going to waste their time with us. We can barely get to low earth orbit on a good day.

  • by daveime (1253762) on Monday March 15, 2010 @05:03AM (#31479696)

    I don't see why not.

    If it has taken us this long to develop to the stage we are currently at, it is reasonable to assume that under similar conditions, life (similar to ours) on other plants would occur in roughly the same timeframe.

    I'm not convinced that Occams Razor is applicable when talking about intelligent life and the ability to travel the stars.

    If the simplest solution is usually the most likely, then the whole fact that we've only achieved space travel in the last 50 years out of 4.5 billion years age of the earth (0.000001 %) negates the principle.

    99.999999% of the evidence up to this point suggests (by Occam) that we should never have left the trees and walked upright. But here we are, arguing over funding for the next moon mission.

  • by naplam33 (1751266) on Monday March 15, 2010 @05:32AM (#31479872)
    Whatever it is ETs would use, current SETI is like indians from the 1500s trying to eavesdrop our current communications by looking for smoke signals. Not going to happen.
  • by Saint Fnordius (456567) on Monday March 15, 2010 @05:41AM (#31479930) Homepage Journal

    Technically, due to the whole speed of light thingy, often we are looking for signs that intelligent life existed thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago. Civilisations could have blinked out of existance long before our capacities to collect their signals were up to speed. Or they exist right now, but their signals won't arrive for another century or so.

    Actually, we only need to look at our own example of how well we've been advertising our existence. The switch to digital and satellite broadcasting has severely cut down on the number of signals we've been sending into the void. Things like Arecibo are mere blips, in the hopes that the other radio antenna is listening at that moment and not sweeping a different sector. By the time they look at our solar system again our signals may not be discernable against the background noise of our sun.

    And yes, maybe Professor Sagan was right, but on the time scale that Lovecraft used: our planet may have been visited by intelligent life, but it could have been during one of the great die-outs, and they moved on with little more than a note to check again in a few millenia, and forgot about this rock.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday March 15, 2010 @08:22AM (#31481014) Homepage Journal

    If there's intelligent life out there, they'll have to be within 150 light years from us for them to find us, and the reverse would be true as well. Plus, any civilizations that use technology not based on radio will be invisible to us.

  • by master_p (608214) on Monday March 15, 2010 @08:43AM (#31481222)

    Perhaps their technology is so advanced, they we can't see them. Perhaps they have figured out all the physics mysteries we haven't figured out yet, and those physics allow mechanisms for communication that we cannot comprehend yet. Perhaps aliens were here in the past and left.

    There are so many possibilities...ruling out the existence of alien intelligent life because we only have searched for 50 years and found nothing it's shortsighted at best.

  • by Obyron (615547) on Monday March 15, 2010 @10:48AM (#31482716)
    By that logic and "common sense," it's easier to assume we don't exist.

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