Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
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Since the first Martian “canals” were charted in 1877, space aliens have captivated sky-gazers, night travelers, and television watchers worldwide. Polls show that nearly half of all Americans believe in extraterrestrials, and many are convinced they’ve visited Earth. A fair number of scientists also suspect that aliens exist, and for decades they’ve been seriously searching―using powerful antennas and computers to scan for radio waves coming from other star systems. This engaging memoir reveals the true story of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and discloses what we may very soon discover.
Chronicling the program’s history with insight and humor, SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak assures us that if there is sentient life in the universe, we are within decades of picking up its signal. Methodically busting urban legends about alien crash landings, crop circles, and the like, Shostak pits scientific truth against speculation and delivers important news on the state of our knowledge. He answers a host of questions about SETI, including where its antennas are aimed…how we know which frequency to monitor…what our response might be…and why, if a signal is detected, “it will be one that’s deliberately beamed into space, not the Klingon equivalent of I Love Lucy.”
Contrary to popular opinion, any aliens found by SETI will not resemble the squishy, big-eyed creatures on cinema screens. Rather, they will have already invented their successors: super smart post-biological thinking machines vastly beyond our own capabilities.
Edgy, amusing, and remarkably profound, Confessions of an Alien Hunter addresses the startling possibilities awaiting us in deep space and in humankind’s own future.
Incandescent stars are easily visible. So the question became, how might one actually detect this subtle stellar shimmy? The most sensitive approach would be to look for slow-speed changes in the absorption patterns in a star’s spectrum. This scheme looked good on paper, but in practice boiled down to hardware: making a spectroscope that was stable enough to detect this delicate stellar dance. Remember, an astronomical spectroscope is a souped-up prism that breaks up starlight into a rainbow of.
I don’t investigate the sightings, I cannot make a valid conclusion about alien craft. But that’s nutty. I can read a research paper on the discovery of a massive black hole in the center of our galaxy and be able to reasonably evaluate that discovery even though I didn’t personally man the telescope. And, by the way, I never insist that these UFO proponents do SETI research, even though they never hesitate to vent their opinions on same. Finally, and I am remarking more on an oddity rather than.
Nudge their astronomer masters if the photomultiplier tubes swallow more than a handful of photons in any nanosecond (billionth of a second) interval. Of course, they’ll inevitably receive some light from the star itself. Our Sun, which is of mediocre luminosity, boils off about a billion trillion trillion trillion photons every second, as anyone who’s counted them is aware. If ET’s star does the same, then even at the relatively short distance of 100 light-years its torrent of photons has been.
Scrutinized, big picture stuff was not. For instance, the entire premise of the screenplay—namely, that aliens would come to Earth to save us from environmental self-destruction—was about as bonkers as talking to the dead. You might want to believe that aliens have some interest in our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, but as noted earlier, none of them could possibly even know about such things. I could have pointed this out, but no one on the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still was going to.
Typical of previous major forks in the path of history. Seth Shostak has been fortunate to be an active participant in this group as it grew from a very small size to the large cohort of today. His description here of this history, and the remarkable people involved, comes directly from much firsthand personal experience, and can be counted on to be true. Searching for extraterrestrial signals is one of the most challenging tasks ever taken on by mankind. There are more than a hundred billion.