Friday, April 3, 2009

ET - Where are you?

Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - by Seth Shostak

As a senior astronomer at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Seth Shostak is eminently qualified to take us through the last fifty years of our search for alien life in the universe. Interspersed with humor, Seth brings to life the challenges such an effort faces and raises the question of how we would respond on the search being successful. The book is an easy read and provides the layman a frank opinion of the low chances of success our current efforts have, and the inadequacy of our tools. It is a good confession indeed - from one of the experts in the field.

The author then tries to the justify the continued efforts - which however is not very convincing. Even a science enthusiast will wonder whether the money and effort is being put in the right direction in our search for alien life. Other than providing a small chance of knowing whether we are alone or not, the SETI efforts do not seem to provide much benefit.

Considering that our technology development is progressing so fast wouldn't it make sense to wait till we have the right tools? And maybe put more effort in developing better tools and different approaches other than just depending on tracking radio signals? Further, everybody (including the author) seems to agree that any civilization that we might find will have to be many times more advanced than ours. In that case wont it better to let them find you? (the needle in the haystack analogy).

The book clearly explains the fundamentals underlying the current search of ET life, but unfortunately fails to inspire or reach the level of books like Carl Sagan's Cosmos. However for anyone interested in learning more about SETI and understanding the limitations of the technologies that we have now, this book will be useful.


Anita said...

To a layman like me it is astounding that after 50 years of effort and huge technological advancemetns during this time we still rely only on radio tracking signals - presupposing that there are intelligent beings out there would they not have something more sophisticated to communicate with -and what if they already have communicated with us - would we be able to decipher their attempts?

According to the vedas life is formed of 5 elements - and there is definately life in the galaxy - this form of life could be made of one, two or more elements - the key being lesser the elements the more intelligent the life. Is the "life with higher intelligence assumption" been articulated years ago in the vedas????

Anonymous said...

I would say that any effort that is better than no effort. Also once something like this has been stopped it is very hard to restart I imagine and therefore it is best to keep it ticking along and slowly improving the technology and over the years the technology improvements will give us what we want.

Sitting back and waiting for something to happen is something I just can't agree with. The smallest chance is a worthwhile chance and if it boils down to money and then a look at what we are spending all our other money on which shows the insignificance of the money being spent on SETI.