While the headlines focus on the passing of the Space Shuttle generation, another prominent space explorer was retired this year with considerably less fanfare – the SETI radio telescope. Many will be familiar with SETI either through the Jody Foster film Contact (above) or perhaps through the popular screen saver which used idle PC cycles to process radio telescope readings for signs of ET phoning anywhere. SETI is phone hacking of little green men.
It is worth taking stock of the fact that one of the biggest non-events in history of science has come to pass. That is the non-happening of what would otherwise be the biggest scientific discovery of all time – evidence of intelligent life in the cosmos.
The sheer infinite (?) numbers of the universe make for a powerful argument that surely among all of the planets around all of the stars in all of the galaxies, there would be one with conditions similar enough to Earth’s such that life might evolve there too. But with all of the technological listening power we can muster as a civilization, the cosmos are blaringly quiet.
Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To conclude there is no intelligent life inside the Universe, risks ‘Black Swan’ thinking. Nonetheless, while finding evidence would be one of the biggest headlines of all time, failure of evidence simply goes on quietly and unannounced day to day. Credit to MSNBC who recently touched on the topic in their piece ‘Life on other planets? Leading expert weighs in’…
“And by the way: Where are the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) signals? There is a non-detection that’s like the elephant in the room. Forty years of Frank Drake and Carl Sagan looking for SETI signals, and we have precisely zero to show for it. So there’s an indication — not definitive — that maybe the Earth is more precious than we had thought.”