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SETI Pioneer Jill Tarter Retires

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  • by QQBoss (2527196) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @04:02AM (#40097633)

    That would be a first.

  • Results? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @04:28AM (#40097737) Homepage

    Not limited to actually finding aliens but looking at everything coming out of SETI: What good has come out of SETI so far?

  • Re:Results? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @04:52AM (#40097813)

    Not limited to actually finding aliens but looking at everything coming out of SETI: What good has come out of SETI so far?

    I don't think that's a valid argument.

    Imagine a game that gives you a million times your bet once every thousand tries. It would be reasonable to play that game. Not winning any of the first hundred times wouldn't change the reasonability of playing that game.

    Maybe you dont't value as high as I do the results of finding there's extraterrestrial intelligence. I do think it would change humanity in a fundamental way and it's such a big price that the current cost of trying is negligible.

    Such a big price that if I were to define humanity's priorities, finding whether we're alone would probably fall in my top twenty.

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @05:08AM (#40097881)

    I am fairly certain that a lot of good work has been done by the SETI Institute in terms of science (e.g. consistent monitoring of parts of the RF spectrum and identifying new sources) and engineering (e.g. signal processing and distributed computing). Of course, I would also love to find an extraterrestrial funding.

    But the Intelligent Funding has never been with SETI. When SETI started, we did not even know if extrasolar planets existed. Smart money would say that they did, since the abundance of stars in our galaxy alone puts the odds in favour of there being an awful lot of planets out there, but we only had a rough idea of how planetary systems formed based upon a sample of one. That left major gaps in our knowledge, such as the probability of finding a planet around any given star and what the composition of those planets would be. Even our present knowledge of extrasolar planets is skewed because of observational limitations.

    There remain many limitations to the idea of searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Searching for weak signals is challenging even if you knew what to look for and where to look. Because of that, I believe that the Intelligent Funding should be directed towards astronomical research that would lay down a foundation for a real SETI in the future. This would be things like finding and characterizing extrasolar planets, creating better models of star formation (particularly with respect to the protoplanetary disc), and getting a better handle on the chemistry of the objects that we are observing.

  • Re:Results? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qbast (1265706) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @05:24AM (#40097951)
    Well, the thing is that this is not a game that gives a million every thousand tries. Instead it will give a complete surprise - maybe a million bucks, maybe a bullet to the head. Why do you assume that result of finding aliens will be positive development? There are at least three possible scenarios with unknown probability of happening: 1) Welcome, lesser developed culture! Let us give you all our cool alien tech, cure cancer and end world hunger. 2) So you are humans? Nice, we don't really care. Go away and stop bothering us. Or maybe "Solaris" kind of contact. 3) Oh hello you poor defenseless bastards. We were just in a need of new food source/hunting ground/slave labour.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 24, 2012 @05:24AM (#40097953)

    Who discovered nothing. Well done.

  • Re:Results? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @05:48AM (#40098051)

    Well, the thing is that this is not a game that gives a million every thousand tries. Instead it will give a complete surprise - maybe a million bucks, maybe a bullet to the head.

    Why do you assume that result of finding aliens will be positive development? There are at least three possible scenarios with unknown probability of happening:
    1) Welcome, lesser developed culture! Let us give you all our cool alien tech, cure cancer and end world hunger.
    2) So you are humans? Nice, we don't really care. Go away and stop bothering us. Or maybe "Solaris" kind of contact.
    3) Oh hello you poor defenseless bastards. We were just in a need of new food source/hunting ground/slave labour.

    Why do you assume finding aliens is equal to revealing ourselves to them? Maybe we find them, study them and then decide to push a large meteorite in their general direction. Ignorance is not the solution to dangerous neighbours.

    "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." - Sun Tzu

  • Re:Results? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @05:51AM (#40098055) Homepage
    SETI helps our reach to exceed our grasp. What else are the heavens for?
  • SETI has failed (Score:1, Insightful)

    by TheMathemagician (2515102) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @06:10AM (#40098111)
    It was well worth looking for alien signals but when none have been found after so long it's time for a rethink. Either there are no signals or we're looking for completely the wrong things in the wrong way. Time to try something else.
  • Re:Results? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by codewarren (927270) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @08:04AM (#40098495)

    We now know how not to find aliens. Sounds like a joke, but in all seriousness, we didn't know that before we tried and it's a very useful thing to know. This doesn't answer the question of whether aliens exist (a question that can never be definitively answered "no"), but it does answer the question of whether they're so ubiquitous that you can't help but detect them by trying.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @08:11AM (#40098535) Journal

    Ummmmm.... no. I am disappointed how many folks don't get "free markets". Market forces are powerful but they are motivated by profit. Nothing wrong with this, but as intelligent citizens, we need to understand how this works and their limitations.

    One limitation is that if profit cannot be privatized, then there is little if any incentive for market dollars to pursue R&D or other activities. Where is the profit in finding ET? Even if you come up with an answer, then how do you limit the profit to those who make the discovery. You can't. So, market dollars will not pursue this project. This means you are looking for a benefactor or a government entity to fund this. There is nothing wrong with government funding of projects that the free market would not undertake... as long as there is a public good to the investment.

    So, no, the free market is not a magic bullet to solve every problem.

  • Re:Results? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by qbast (1265706) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @08:32AM (#40098661)

    Unless we find intelligent life living on Saturn, they're going to be a very long ways away.

    Long way for us, yes. Which means we won't be able to do anything to them. Will opposite be true? Who knows.

    Far enough to be extremely useful in the "stop being solar-centric, stop thinking some magical God invented man, everyone grow the fuck up" kind of way.

    Right, I am sure everybody will immediately let go of their irrational thinking. Religions will adapt, as they always did to changes in man's understanding of the world.

    But so far there's no plausible possibility of external risk at all. I'd be more worried about the religious zealots (of all denominations) and how they're going to react to having their minds forcefully opened to a bigger world.

    The three scenarios you listed have essentially zero possibility of happening. Science rules the universe, not science fiction.

    And you seem to be sure that we know enough of physics to be decide what is 'safe' distance. At end of 19th century Lord Kelving proclaimed that physics is finished, we pretty much know how the world works and only some loose ends are left to be tied. Then we got relativistic and quantum theories. You are falling into the same trap.

  • Deniers (Score:5, Insightful)

    I am really looking forward to the day when SETI announces evidence of an intelligent signal from deep space. Not only will it be exciting to learn about out interstellar neighbors, it will be great fun watching young earth creationists develop wild and elaborate denials of the existence of extraterrestrial life. Let's have very thorough background screenings of stargate workers this time, please.

  • Re:Results? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dusty101 (765661) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @11:10AM (#40099921)

    With all due respect, I would probably be able to plausibly argue as an astrophysicist (but not a SETI-affiliated one) that I do have "an appreciation of the scale of the universe, the limitations that Einsteinian physics places on communication and exploration of it, the incredible odds of finding coincidental intelligent life in close proximity to us on the kind of time scale and size scale of a 14 billion year old, 14 billion light year diameter universe". After 35 years in the field, Jill Tarter probably does, too.

    Your position is not an unreasonable one to adopt, even if I think that characterizing SETI as "just a time sink for big children" is unfair, sounds fairly juvenile itself and makes your argument sound weaker than it actually is.

    I personally feel, however, that while the SETI effort is like looking for a nearby needle in universe full of haystacks (and the SETI folk have never claimed otherwise), the cultural, philosophical and other implications of scoring an admittedly spectacularly unlikely "hit" are worth the relatively modest investment. A big chunk of SETI's money already comes from private donations these days, anyway, and a lot more public money has been wasted on totally pointless things totally lacking the world-changing implications of something like SETI.

    And in the meantime, they've (at the very least) been able to do some interesting things in terms of radio telescope technology and other research, and inspired a bunch of kids and adults to think enthusiastically about science.

We want to create puppets that pull their own strings. - Ann Marion

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