SETI Institute's senior astronomer Seth Shostak bets a cup of coffee that we'll be able to finally encounter intelligent alien life within the next two decades.
What's out there?
It's one of the most enduring questions of modern times: are we alone in the universe? If we're not, then what—or who—is out there? The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute has been working for decades to finally answer that definitive question. However, it's definitely a long time coming. We've had space probes sent out to various parts of the galaxy, but so far we haven't had conclusive evidence that there is life somewhere other than Earth. We've found planets and moons that can possibly host life, but we haven't found life itself.
At this point, are we ever going to find alien life? Shostak says yes, and he's prepared to bet a cup of coffee on that. If he loses that bet, however, he's likely to need something a bit stronger than coffee.
What would it be like to finally meet extraterrestrial life?
Shostak discussed the possibility of finding intelligent alien life in an interview with Futurism at the Worlds Fair Nano NY. According to Shostak, scientists have very little to say about aliens at present because, well, “we haven't found any”. However, this isn't to say that what scientists have accomplished and discovered ever since humanity turned its eyes to the sky and wondered about what's out there isn't significant. In fact, space studies have had a lot of progress in just the last 20 years. For one thing, we now know that there are a lot of potentially habitable planets and moons out there. We didn't know this two decades ago.
It's also likely, according to Shostak, that the first kind of alien life we'll encounter is microbial, “the kind you'd find in the corners of your bathtub,” he says. “We may find that a lot sooner, but that remains to be seen. But it's gonna happen, I think, in your lifetime."
In terms of intelligent life, Shostak tells us not to expect the same kind of first contact we see in science fiction. We probably won't be giving greetings of peace face to face; instead, we'd likely communicate from light years away.
Do we have close extraterrestrial neighbors on Mars?
"I mean if they're 500 light years away...” Shostak muses, “you'll hear a signal that'll be 500 years old, and if you broadcast back 'Hi we're the Earthlings, how're you doing?'—it'll be 1,000 years before you hear back from them. If you ever hear back from them. So, it's not exactly contact, but at least you know they're there."
So if there's intelligent alien life out there, or at least just alien life, where would it be? Shostak had previously answered this question and had given a several possibly places to look. The first place we should look is Mars, and we should also consider the Jovian moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. The Saturnine moons Enceladus and Titan are also top contenders. Surprisingly, Shostak also puts ex-planet Pluto up for consideration, since it may have pockets of subsurface water that may host microbial life.
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