Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
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Should We Shout into the Darkness?

by Larry Klaes, space exploration enthusiast and optimist

An abbreviated version of this article appeared on The Tompkins Weekly on April 14, 2008.

In early February, a 230-foot wide radio antenna in Madrid, Spain transmitted the Beatles song “Across the Universe” into the Milky Way galaxy, aimed specifically at Polaris, the North Star, located 431 light years from Earth. Paul McCartney approved of this event, which was handled by NASA through its Deep Space Network of radio telescopes spread across the planet. John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, considered the broadcast of this song to be “the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the Universe.”

One month later, astronomers in the United Kingdom announced they would be sending their own broadcast to the star 47 Ursae Majoris, namely an advertisement for the snack manufacturer Doritos, with more ads to follow that one to the stars.

While both of these transmissions are mainly publicity stunts – the Beatles song commemorated several simultaneous anniversaries and the Doritos ad will help the UK raise funds to save its threatened astronomy and physics programs — these actions do illuminate an important question that has been part of an increasing debate: How wise is it to announce humanity’s presence to the rest of the Universe?


The first SETI attempt, a message beamed toward M13 (the Great Cluster in Hercules) on November 16, 1974, by the Arecibo radio telescope. From left to right are numbers from one to ten, atoms including hydrogen and carbon, some interesting molecules, the DNA double helix, a human with description, basics of our Solar System, and basics of the sending telescope.

Since 1960, when the former Cornell astronomer Frank Drake conducted the first modern Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project which he named Ozma, scientists have been listening and looking for any signs of alien civilizations in our galaxy and beyond. The hope has been that — since we do not yet have interstellar vessels — someone out there is sending a deliberate radio or optical message to us, or using an omnidirectional beacon, or leaking electromagnetic signals into space just like we have been for the last century with our radio, television, and radar broadcasts.

In the nearly five decades since Drake’s Project Ozma, no definite signals of an intelligent alien origin have been found. This does not mean that ETI do not exist, but some have wondered if, in a galaxy with 400 billion stars systems stretched across 100,000 light years of space, it might help the situation to transmit messages into the Milky Way galaxy to facilitate getting the attention of any possible cosmic neighbors to encourage them to let us know they exist.

Scientists such as Drake and the late Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan view finding an intelligent alien civilization as a major boon to humanity in terms of vastly increasing our scientific and technological database. Other experts are rather uneasy about the prospect. They cite historical examples of what happens when an advanced culture encounters a more primitive society as reason to be very cautious about sending electromagnetic greetings into deep space. Some advocate sending no messages at all until we are more developed and better understand who and what inhabit the galaxy.

For good or ill, a few deliberate attempts have been made to signal extraterrestrial intelligences, starting with the Arecibo Message sent from the giant radio telescope to a distant globular star cluster named Messier 13 in 1974. The 1970s also witnessed the first launching of several robot probes that have left the Solar System with engraved messages for any beings who may one day find them drifting through space.

Within the last decade, Professor Alexander L. Zaitsev of the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics at the Russian Academy of Science has emerged as a strong advocate of messaging to extraterrestrial intelligences, also known as METI. Zaitsev also orchestrated several METI projects, such as the Cosmic Calls of 1999 and 2003 and the Teen Age Message of 2001, all sent from the 230-foot wide radio telescope at the Evpatoria Deep Space Center in the Ukraine. Moving at light speed (186,000 miles per second), these messages will arrive at their targeted star systems in the latter half of this century.

In a paper Zaitsev published in 2006, the scientist notes that “SETI is meaningless if no one feels the need to transmit.” Zaitsev also feels that if there are advanced cultures bent on harming humanity, they will find us eventually, so it is in our best interests to seek them out first. Zaitsev sees the great distances between stars and the physical limits imposed by attempting to attain light speed serve as a natural protective barrier for our species and any other potentially vulnerable beings in the galaxy.

Scientist and science fiction author David Brin feels that in spite of the celestial limitations noted by Zaitsev, any transmissions sent spaceward without first being discussed by a broad range of disciplines is both improperly representative of humanity and poses the danger of attracting beings that may bear us ill will.

“As newcomers in a strangely quiet Cosmos, shall we shout for attention?” asks Brin. “Or is it wiser to continue quiet listening? We propose an interdisciplinary symposium, to be the most eclectic and inclusive forum, by far, to deliberate the METI issue. It is not too much to ask that METI people hold back until the world’s open, scientific community can get a chance to examine their proposal.”

Paul Gilster of the Tau Zero Foundation (founded by Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program) that conducts research into interstellar travel, also recommends restraint. “Two aspects of METI trouble me deeply,” he says. “The first is that serious messaging has taken place without any consensus or indeed consultation here on Earth. The various signals sent from Evpatoria in the Crimea were simply announced, yet such messages have implications for our entire species and at the very least should be considered in an international, multi-discipinary forum before being sent.

“The second troubling aspect of all this is that recent messages from NASA and European sources have been treated in the press more or less as larks, the assumption being either that extraterrestrials are benign or that they do not exist in the first place. I favor a moderate, cautious approach to deliberately announcing our presence to the Universe.”

Seth Shostak, the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, is not terribly concerned about any kind of alien invasion. Like Zaitsev, Shostak agrees that a technologically sophisticated civilization could find Earth and humanity if they chose to; as one example, our military and planetary radars are among the brightest electromagnetic sources produced by our species.

As the Chair of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Study Group, Shostak and his team have been looking into how we should respond to a message from an ETI received on Earth. Brin and others claim that the study group’s members are too narrowly focused in their representation of the sciences. Shostak maintains that in addition to their focus being on replying to a received alien transmission, the group has neither the right nor the ability to police the rest of humanity on what they broadcast — an issue that will only grow more complex as our technology becomes more sophisticated.

Personally, I am in the middle. I see the legitimate points of both sides, though I think some of our attempts at contact might be perceived as childish (or at least very basic) by any advanced ETI. Also, I wonder how many galactic cultures are similar to ours at this point in time, if any exist at all. Unless our galaxy is composed of societies and beings a lot like the ones in Star Trek, my feeling is that many of them will be either really behind us (and not even intelligent/aware at all) or so beyond us as to make communication nearly pointless.

Humanity is already sending messages into the galaxy and that is only going to increase, not diminish. So we had better deal with this, rather than hope people restrain themselves when they have the chance to broadcast a message into deep space.

Even if ETI don’t understand what we are sending them, they will likely be aware that there is some kind of intelligence on Sol 3 and may want to respond to us. We should ready ourselves for the realization that we are not on some isolated island in the middle of nowhere, but part of a much larger galactic community – even if the community is “just” a lot of star systems with no high level inhabitants – and we should start acting accordingly.

And even if no ETI ever picks up our leakage or broadcasts, our descendants will be heading out into the galaxy one day, so one way or another we will make our presence known – and that is what we need to prepare for: how alien societies, if they exist, will react to us. I think that any society, no matter how advanced now, had to develop much as we did, just as all life on this planet had to evolve and all our ancestors struggled to make it to the present. So maybe they will “get” us and at least know what we are going through, because they were once children, too.

Which begs the question, are there others out there at our level, making lots of noise into the galaxy, wondering where everybody else is? Have we just not gotten their messages yet, or have they been silenced by somebody who preys on such naive behavior? Or are we the only ones like ourselves in the galaxy?

I think we need to be brave and forge ourselves into the galaxy. If we stay at home and hide under the beds, we might live a bit longer, but we won’t evolve any.

24 Responses to “Should We Shout into the Darkness?”

  1. Paul Gilster says:

    Athena, nice work here by Larry. I do have two quick corrections:

    The foundation referenced above is the Tau Zero Foundation, not Tau Ceti Foundation. And although I am delighted to be working for it, I am not the actual founder. That would be Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program.



  2. Athena says:

    Paul, corrections noted and incorporated!  Somehow SETI and Ceti got mixed up in my mind.

  3. […] Larry Klaes tackles the METI question — do we intentionally broadcast to the stars? — in Athena Andreadis’ Astrogator’s Logs today, looking at the pros and cons of an issue that continues to bedevil the scientific community. Of METI advocate Alexander Zaitsev (Russian Academy of Science), for example, Klaes writes this: In a paper Zaitsev published in 2006, the scientist notes that “SETI is meaningless if no one feels the need to transmit. Zaitsev also feels that if there are advanced cultures bent on harming humanity, they will find us eventually, so it is in our best interests to seek them out first. Zaitsev sees the great distances between stars and the physical limits imposed by attempting to attain light speed serve as a natural protective barrier for our species and any other potentially vulnerable beings in the galaxy. […]

  4. tacitus says:

    Larry, you neglect to mention one issue that just about makes the whole discussion over METI moot. Any species capable of the daunting prospect of interstellar travel will almost certainly have the ability to build a fleet of space-going telescopes powerful enough to discover and directly observe planets in other systems many light years away (dozens if not hundreds).

    We have barely begun our own search for extrasolar planets yet we already expect to have our first direct observation of an Earth-like planet within 20 years with only a third or fourth generation space-going instrument. Imagine what we will be able to do within 100, 200, or 500 years, especially once the problem of cheap access to space has been overcome. We will likely have a catalog of tens of thousands of worlds or many more long before we finally arrive at Alpha Centauri in person.

    Given that we constantly betray the presence of our civilization to anyone who cares to look in our direction with one “sniff” of our atmosphere (i.e. through the spectrum of light reflected off our planet) and by the night side illumination of billions of street lights, there is little point in worrying about those fleeting radio messages we send.

    If there are any advanced space faring civilizations within the theoretical limits of exoplanet observation from Earth, then they already know our planet is host to life. They would have to be closer to observe the changes we have caused that indicate there is an intelligence at work (i.e. atmospheric pollution and light pollution) but if they are within about 60-80 light years of us they will be beginning to see them.

    Thus it’s not really worth being concerned over METI. Our own planet is a beacon far brighter and more constant than anything we’re likely to attempt ourselves. If the ETIs are out there looking our way, then they will see us whether we like it or not. I, for one, hope they are.

  5. Walden2 says:

    Hi Tacitus –

    While I know I did not go into detail with this, advanced ETI being
    able to find and examine in detail our planet with powerful telescopes
    is one of the main things I meant by their being able to find Earth and
    humanity even if we never sent out a single signal. So I certainly
    agree with you here and thanks for the chance to clarify this point.

  6. Paul Gilster says:

    Like tacitus, I think we have to take into account the new instrumentation that will be coming online in the next few decades, comparing it to what an advanced civilization might be capable of. Unlike tacitus, though, I’ll take a pass on being noticed for the time being if such civilizations are out there. The outstanding METI question is how much we can assume about an extraterrestrial culture, and in my view, the idea that an encounter between it and us will necessarily be benign is pretty iffy. I’m with David Brin in calling for broader discussion on this between various disciplines before we bombard the electromagnetic spectrum with messages. But as a realist, I tend to agree with Larry Klaes, author of the original piece, when he points out that actually controlling such transmissions may be impossible. Seth Shostak makes the same point in Larry’s story.

  7. tacitus says:

    Paul, I understand your concern about being detected by aliens, but I tend to tend toward the notion that there is very little reason for aliens to be hostile. Yes, it’s true that we have no idea what their psychological makeup would be (they could be laser-beam toting psychos) but there is likely little in the practical sense that would cause them to fear us (we can barely get to the Moon) or to compete with us (resources available on Earth are almost certainly commonplace elsewhere).

    From a selfish point of view, contact with an alien species, and the promise of a massive leap forward in scientific and technological understanding it holds is probably the most profound thing that could happen in my short lifetime. It could all go sour, that’s true, but I (and I would wager a majority of others) would be willing to take that risk.

  8. Athena says:

    Actually, contact would be the most profound thing that happened in humanity’s lifetime. It would be literally earthshaking. However, I tend to think that ETI would be so different that even communication might be extremely difficult, let alone sharing of technology.

  9. Walden2 says:

    Tacitus, while I consider worrying about an alien invasion
    to be about as useful as worrying about an earthquake –
    they don’t happen very often where I live and if one does
    happen, there isn’t going to be much I can do about it –
    I can also see where a long-lived ETI occupying a large
    fraction of the galaxy might consider the long-term goals
    of our civilization and see us as a threat for space and
    resources down the road.

    Yes, there are lots of star systems in the Milky Way, but
    I have seen projections where the whole galaxy could be
    colonized in just a few million years, so it does make me
    wonder why our system is not noticably inhabited? Do
    they all obey some kind of Star Trek type Prime Directive?
    Or have ETI found a way to live within their means in their
    own solar system and only explore via big telescopes?

  10. Paul Gilster says:

    I’m with Athena on the communication problem, which I think also applies to other aspects of potential contact. We would have no way whatsoever of understanding the motivations or thought processes of extraterrestrials, so while I would assume that there is little reason for such a species to attack us, I would also assume that our utter lack of knowledge of what’s out there is potentially a danger signal. If ETIs are out there in any numbers, then the Fermi question still resonates, and one possible answer is that there are reasons for a species to keep its mouth shut. David Brin has written this up far more eloquently than I can; all I can say is that while I would hope for the best in terms of new technologies, etc., I would also feel a deep unease at the commencement of any contact. Too many variables here, too much that can go wrong.

  11. […] Larry Klaes, “Should We Shout into the Darkness?”, 2008, Astrogator’s Logs […]

  12. Walden2 says:

    Counting on Beauty: The role of aesthetic, ethical, and physical universal principles for interstellar communication

    Authors: Guillermo A. Lemarchand

    (Submitted on 28 Jul 2008)

    Abstract: SETI researchers believe that the basic principles of our science and the science of extraterrestrial beings should be fundamentally the same, and we should be able to communicate with them by referring to those things we share, such as the principles of mathematics, physics, and chemistry (a similar cognitive map of nature).

    This view assumes that there is only one way to conceptualize the laws of nature. Consequently, mathematics and the language of nature should be universal.

    In this essay, we discuss the epistemological bases of the last assumptions. We describe all the hypotheses behind the universality of the laws of nature and the restrictions that any technology should have to establish contact with other galactic technological civilization. We introduce some discussions about the limitations of homocentric views. We discuss about the possible use of aesthetic cognitive universals as well as ethical ones in the design of interstellar messages. We discuss the role of symmetry as a universal cognitive map. We give a specific example on how to use the Golden Section principles to design a hypothetical interstellar message based in physical and aesthetical cognitive universals.

    We build a space of configuration matrix, representing all the variables to be taken into account for designing an electromagnetic interstellar message (e.g. frequency, polarization, bandwidth, transmitting power, modulation, rate of information, galactic coordinates, etc.) against the limitations imposed by physical, technological, aesthetical and ethical constraints.

    We show how to use it, in order to make hypotheses about the characteristics and properties of hypothetical extraterrestrial artificial signals and their detection by existing SETI projects.

    Comments: To appear in “Between Worlds: The Art and Science of Interstellar Message Composition,” Douglas Vakoch (ed.), MIT Press, Cambridge MA. This manuscript was originally submitted to the editor of the book on November 2002

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Astrophysics (astro-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:0807.4518v1 [physics.pop-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Guillermo Lemarchand [view email]

    [v1] Mon, 28 Jul 2008 18:33:18 GMT (185kb)

  13. Athena says:

    Original submission was in 2002?! This book has taken its time to reach publication. About as fast as conventional spaceship propulsion (*laughs*).

  14. ron page says:

    I think there is reason to view ETI with extreme caution. Evil can be expressed many ways. For example, when you plunge a lobster head-first into a cauldron of boiling water, you are probably not considering it an act of evil. But to the lobster, immersing him to a hideous, screaming death is the embodiment of evil. When I butchered crabs in the Bering Sea, I didn’t hate the spiny crustaceans that came winding my way on a conveyor belt. Yet I seized them with great force, clapped the carapace to a steel spur, and with the flick of a wrist violently dismembered them. ETI’s simply might view us as harvestable resources. Be very afraid.

  15. Athena says:

    If ETI are advanced enough to come to Earth in person, they won’t need our resources. We’re likelier to be more like ants to them than food. And if they’re at that level, we won’t be able to do much about it, either.

  16. Max Kalininskij says:

    “Unless our galaxy is composed of societies and beings a lot like the ones in Star Trek, my feeling is that many of them will be either really behind us (and not even intelligent/aware at all) or so beyond us as to make communication nearly pointless.”

    I think that this issue is at the heart of the debate. Considering how resilient and adaptive DNA-based life is to various extremes of pressure and temperature, and how prevelant the building blocks of it are throughout the galaxy, we can maybe assume that the chemical composition (well again, assuming they are chemically-based) of the majority of alien life would largely be carbon-based like ours, and that they would mostly form in conditions not too far from those on earth/habitable zones of other stars. Thus we can begin to narrow down the figure for the amount of intelligent extra-terrestrial civilisations that currently exist in the Milky Way. I’ve heard all sorts of numbers; but several thousand is as reasonable an estimate as any. And if we then suppose that the majority of life is concentrated not too far from the galactic centre where there are less stars, less activity and less matter; and not too close to the galactic centre where there are all sorts of dangerous events, supernovas, nearby passing stars, etc… which could potentially put an immediate stop to all life. So based on this, lets say that intelligent life can be found every few hundred light years. Now finally take into account the time-frame in which life may have evolved. Even if we assume that life may have only started to meaningly evolve in the galaxy several million years ago; perhaps because too few planets had formed and cooled earlier, or because of galaxy-wide, life-sterelising events such as hypernovas; then that still leaves us several hundred million years… in which to put the birth, lifetime and perhaps death of only a few thousand seperate alien civilisations. The chance is remote enough, that even any number of them greater than a hundred or so will exist throughout the whole galaxy at any given time.

    As someone mentioned, whatever our differences may be, we would have to have the same sort understanding of science and mathmatics by definition; there is only one set of physical laws this side of the universe, and it makes sense that they apply equally to everybody. If our science and maths will largely be the same, then so will our technological progression (e.g. no Space Flight before Electricity, no Nuclear Reactors before Combustion of Fossil Fuels, etc…). Therefore, we can to an extent understand the advancement of alien science, by looking to our own; they will likely follow similar courses and perhaps too in the field of SETI/METI, providing that the alien race in question is interested in communicating with other intelligent life at all.

    We announce our presence to the universe in many ways, but only deliberately via electromagnetic waves. 150 years ago we wouldn’t have been able to detect such communication, and 150 years from now it could well wind up obsolete; replaced by a new medium which for now we can either not detect, or simply do not recognize it as a potential medium for information; instead interpretting it as purely the product of natural processes of stars and other phenomena. Not to say that we will stop using electromagnetic waves to communicate with potential extraterrestrials in the future; but perhaps after a certain time period we will simply lose interest in doing so, as it would be obvious that if that is the only medium that they could detect; they would be far less advanced then us. Now considering this rapid progression of technology on Earth, the speed of advancement of which looks set only to increase; this gives us an incredibly tiny window through which we can meaningly communicate with or be communicated with by aliens. Remember that once a signal passes through a region of space; its not coming back ’round again. It could be that some civilisation spied our world as a potential for life, attempted to communicate some 10,000 years ago, naturally received no answer and lost interest. And by now they might have blown themselves up, been conquered, left their homeworld or whatever else.

    Thus the possibility of 2 civilisations, existing not only relatively close to each other in the Milky Way, but existing at the same time with similar levels of technological progression, and are both interested in communicating with other civilisations – are simply terrifyingly remote. Of course it could be that intelligent life is very much prevelent in the galaxy, has expanded to cover a great many star systems including some near Earth, and that at least some races would be interested in communicating with us. In which case, all we can do is sit and wait; but were it the case, there still there should have been something that would have given them away by now, even using only our current instruments and technology. And of course there is the possibility that that there is a community of alien races in contact with each other, that have a First Directive policy of sorts, not to communicate with backward civilisations until they are ready; and that go to lengths to cover their tracks, transmissions and any stellar engineering projects that they might be working on. This is also very much a possibility, but ultimately it would leave us in no different a position than in the first scenario speculated on.

  17. Athena says:

    Max, I agree. The galaxy is vast, and the prospect of “ships passing in the night” is very real. On the other hand, I suspect that the Prime Directive is unlikely. Even if alien species are based on biochemistry very similar to ours, it’s almost certain they will think and react very differently — just try to comprehend the thought processes of an elephant or a dolphin!

  18. Paul O'Hagan says:

    Another possibility that no one has mentioned is the risk we take of not trying to communicate. Imagine a scenario of planet A hiding from the inhabitants of planet B. Later on planet A faces an extinction event which planet B’s people have already overcome and could have advised them on had they only known. Or planet B experiences a technological singularity with great benefits for them which could also have benefited planet A.

    A small risk, I suppose, but I thought I’d mention the other side of the coin.

  19. I just discovered this conversation and see that since my simple thought in 1974 that the senders acted irresponsibly, others have now elaborated both pro- and con- considerations. Hawking says “lay low”. For now, that makes considerable sense to me, but in any case before transmission the Arecibo message and more recent one(s) ought to have been discussed by the world community, even though we’re unavoidably detectable in a number of ways.

  20. […] Klaes, "Should We Shout into the Darkness?", 2008, Astrogator’s Logs Wikio Wikio Sur le même sujet:ManicoreChris Jordan, photographe […]

  21. Walden2 says:

    One Man’s Quest for SETI’s Most Promising Signal

    Jan. 27, 2012 | 14:29 PST | 22:29 UTC

    Review of Robert H. Gray, The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial intelligence (Chicago: Palmer Square Press, 2011).

    By Amir Alexander

    The signal from the stars arrived at the Big Ear radio observatory in Ohio at 11:16 p.m. on the night of August 15, 1977. It came in loud and crisp, reaching at least 30 times the volume of the background noise and occupying a single 10 kilohertz-wide band on the observatory’s receiver. Its middle part lasted 38 seconds – the time it takes Big Ear’s radio band to traverse a single point in the sky – and it landed almost precisely at the frequency at which SETI scientists were hoping to find it: 1420 kilohertz, the emission frequency of hydrogen. It was exactly what SETI scientists had been waiting for – a seemingly artificial signal from the stars, one that could carry a message from alien beings light-years away.

    No one was there to receive the signal when it came in. The telescope’s beam silently scanned the skies, the receiver and spectrometer registered and analyzed the data, and a printer rattled in the darkness, recording it all in a continuous stream of numbers and letters. But when Big Ear volunteer Jerry Ehman looked over the printout a few days later, the sequence recording the signal leaped off the page at him: 6 E Q U J 5. Ehman circled the sequence and in the margins jotted a pure, barely articulate, expression of wonder: “Wow!” That was the first time the Wow! signal was detected. To this day, it is also the last.

    Full article here:

  22. Athena says:

    Interesting to have the whole story about the WOW signal and the follow-up (re)search, although it may well have been a glitch of the recording system.

  23. Walden2 says:

    SETI’s search for alien life is in trouble

    By Tom Foremski | May 31, 2012, 3:43pm PDT

    Summary: SETI might be forced to sharply curtail its search for alien life if it can’t plug large losses in funding.

    Jill Tarter ponders the uncertain future for Alien search project SETI.

    Wednesday evening I was at a great local salon organized by Taylor Milsal and Christine Mason McCaull, which featured guest speaker Jill Tarter, Director of the Center for SETI Research for 35 years.

    Last week, Ms Tarter announced her retirement from SETI, but that was not by choice. She resigned so that SETI could continue with its work amidst big cuts that threaten to shutter the project. Her former salary will be used for operations while she tries to raise funds large enough to plug large losses in funding due to the state of California’s budget cuts, and from other sources.

    She gave a great talk and I spoke with her afterwards. Here are some of my notes:

    – SETI needs about $2 million a year to keep going. She resigned so that her salary would not be a drain on the organization.

    – The search for intelligent life in the universe is entering an exciting era where advances in the technology of telescopes, and in the analysis of massive amounts of data, mean that more of the sky can be searched for alien signals, than ever before. But, we are still very far from any form of comprehensive search. We have only examined the equivalent of a glass of water pulled from the earth’s oceans.

    – SETI introduced the first distributed computing network when volunteers agreed to let SETI crunch data during the bits of time they weren’t directly using their computers, SETI software took advantage of the idle cycles in a PC’s microprocessor, the basis for peer-to-peer computing architectures that are now very common in many applications.

    – There are army of SETI volunteers look for patterns in data in a massive “crowd sourcing” project that takes advantage of the brain’s “spare cycles.”

    – She spoke about the advanced telescopes that are so sensitive they can detect the passage of planets as they cross in front of distant suns, which has led to the discovery of 69 planets, and an additional possible 2321 solar systems. She estimates that there could be as many as half-a-billion habitable planets in our galaxy alone.

    – If there are advanced extraterrestrial civilizations discovered they will have to be in existence for a reasonably long time, for us to detect them. That would be a very good sign that a technological society, such as ours, is able to survive its challenges.

    – The job is difficult because the search is for “leakage” of electromagnetic signals, which would be very low power and are focused on tiny spaces, within a vast universe. Our own signal leakage is small, the largest Earth signal that could be seen by alien civilizations, would be a radar telescope in Puerto Rico, which uses a very powerful beam that can reach deep into the universe, but you would have to be directly in the path of that beam.

    – Ms Tarter announced her retirement on May 22, but she isn’t giving up her work, just her salary. Her goal is to stabilize SETI funding for the next five years at about $2m a year, which would pay operating costs for the telescopes, and for a handful of researchers.

    – By joining SETI and taking part in the hunt for alien life, Ms Tarter believes we will learn what it is to be “Earthlings” and that realization has the potential to make a big difference in the world, uniting us and trivializing any differences between peoples.

    Foremski’s Take: I was shocked to hear how California State’s budget cuts, loss of funding in other areas, and the lack of NASA support, has endangered the 50 year history of searching for extraterrestrial life. A $2 million a year budget is tiny — it’s something that a Google, Intel, or an IBM could easily fund, and hundreds of other companies could, too.

    SETI’s funders would gain a lot of goodwill, especially in engineering circles — the production line workers who are making our future.

    Recruiting the best engineers requires more than a good paycheck, or free lunches. These days it’s the organizations that spark the imagination, that show a desire to dream big, and to tackle some of the most difficult challenges around, that win in the jobs market. There’s few larger challenges than discovering the signals of alien civilizations. (Alien Life…brought to you by YourNameHere Corp.)

    The search for alien life is embedded deep within our culture, it has inspired many generations with countless stories, books, and movies. It would be a tragedy if SETI were to cease its work, especially with such modest needs.

    – Come on $GOOG, you are using the NASA airfields for your luxury jets, and you are interested in space exploration, plus the Google Foundation is sitting on cash — kick in some dollars for SETI!

    There are tremendous opportunities for marketing slogans. Here are a few I came up with (send me yours via Twitter @tomforemski.)

    “Google Search knows no limits.” or “SETI Search – powered by Google.”

    – And here’s one for Intel:

    “From bunny suits to space suits – wherever you find Intelligent Life you’ll find Intel.”

    – Here’s one for Facebook:

    “If there are alien civilizations out there, we’ll be the first to find them, friend them, and let them use our phone.”

    (’ll post more slogans later…)

    – – –

    Also: SETI’s conference is coming up on June 22-24 in Santa Clara.

    Ms Tarter will be celebrated at a gala event on Saturday evening, June 23. Speakers include astronaut Mae Jemison, astronomer and “Drake Equation” author Frank Drake, and “Star Trek” actor Robert Picardo.

    A message from Ms. Tarter:

    SETI research experiments are funded by private donations, limiting how quickly we can search these newly discovered planets for intelligent life.

    The best reason to support SETI research is because it is an investment in our own future. The scientist Phil Morrison said that ‘SETI is the archeology of the future.’ Think about it. If we detect a signal, we could learn about THEIR past (because of the time their signal took to reach us) and the possibility of OUR future.

    Successful detection means that, on average, technologies last for a long time. That’s the only way another technological civilization can overlap with us in time and space. Understanding that it is possible to find solutions to our terrestrial problems and to become a very old civilization, because someone else has managed to do just that, is hugely important!

    Knowing that there can be a future may motivate us to achieve it.

    There’s additional information here and an opportunity to make a donation: SETI Institute

    Become a member of TeamSETI for $50.

  24. […] Klaes, "Should We Shout into the Darkness?", 2008, Astrogator’s […]