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SETI pauses/shuts down

Discussion in 'Science & Technology' started by El_Machinae, Apr 27, 2011.

  1. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    So, despite getting on TED, despite Kepler, despite the movie Contact, despite a decent proportion of people believing aliens exist, despite holding an excellent seminar series, it looks like SETI is going to have to pause their search.

    They've got a giant array set up and running, but they lack sufficient donations to keep the place running.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2011/04/26/alien-center-shutdown.html

    I think the best bet is to be agnostic on ET life, obviously. That said, it's a search that's worth making, because both silence and results are informative. The question of ET life is one that should decently alter our view of our place in the universe.
     
  2. punkbass2000

    punkbass2000 Des An artiste

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    Probably means they were about to find something. :scan:
     
  3. emzie

    emzie wicked witch of the North

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    The only civilization from which to draw data is our own. Given how quickly we're giving up radio wave transmissions, I think it's a massive waste of time to be searching for aliens in this manner.
     
  4. Cutlass

    Cutlass The Man Who Wasn't There.

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    I don't understand the details, but I've been told that the likelihood of detecting radio signals made on the scale of life is so remote as to be a practical impossibility over multiple light years. Given the wattage of a big radio broadcast, given the wattage of stars, given wattage of the microwave background radiation, given the interstellar dust, I just have a very low expectation of a signal being heard.
     
  5. illram

    illram Moderator Moderator

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    How far off are we from having the technology capable of detecting habitable worlds in other solar systems? Not too far off, right? If someone else was trying to do the same thing we were doing and got lucky and spotted us, it's not too big of a stretch to assume they might try and beam something our way regardless of how long it takes. Or is it? (Would we try the same thing?)

    I mean it can't hurt to just listen, can it? Whats a couple hundred million (billion? trillion? how much is it worth?) for the chance to figure out the answer of all answers? I mean it would probably be the most important discovery, ever, would it not?
     
  6. uppi

    uppi Deity

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    People tried that already. Unfortunately it is unlikely to succeed, because the costly wars against the purple aliens forced the green aliens to defund and close down the search for extra-alien life program.

    By what measure would it be the most important discovery, ever? I agree it is interesting and worth the minor effort to keep listening. But it think the impact on our lives and our world view would be pretty minor.
     
  7. peter grimes

    peter grimes ... Moderator

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    This is a project that I care deeply about. It's a real shame that it's going on hiatus. Especially since the budget is so small! I seem to recall that the array was built with a financial gift from one of those dot-com startup guys. Musk? Ansari? Can't recall.

    It's only a single penny from every tax payer in the USA.
     
  8. mdwh

    mdwh Deity

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    I'm not sure that 80% of people believing in UFO conspiracy theories, or a reference to a fictional film, are much of an argument...

    (I'm sure that aliens exist somewhere. Whether there's a reasonable chance of detecting them via SETI is another matter. Not that I'm against the project, but it's not clear to me it's a great thing either.)
     
  9. Gatsby

    Gatsby King

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    Maybe they should take the funding for finding ETs and invest it in an earthbound-asteroid detection/prevention program instead.

    Even assuming that there are intelligent ETs in our part of the universe, it makes sense for them to keep a low profile so as not to attract attention from other more advanced ET species which could potentially pose a threat. Any highly advanced ETs would probably have no need for radio-based communications, and it wouldn't be a very good idea to make them aware of our existence anyway.
     
  10. emzie

    emzie wicked witch of the North

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    I'd put discovering extra-terrestrial life, intelligent or bacterial, as one of the most important discoveries ever, absolutely.

    It's not just a matter of cost, but also a matter of instrument use. SETI doesn't get very high priority on telescopes, no, but if your limited time looking for ET is being done by passively listening in radio frequencies, I think you're doing a very inefficient search. So I don't have a problem funding SETI's objectives, but they need better methods.

    I think we have to assume a sufficiently advanced civilization could find us regardless of what we do. We're already starting to find rocky planets in habitable zones. Imagine what even a mere 250 years of technological advancement would do for detecting such worlds!
     
  11. Olleus

    Olleus Deity

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    Unless general relativity turn out to be completely wrong in low density situations (not very likely) or intelligent life is found within 100 light years of earth (very unlikely imho); then even if we do find intelligent life elsewhere there is really very little that could be done due to the sheer difficulty and delays in communication.

    How many questions could we have asked 200 years ago to an alien life form whose answer would directly benefit life on earth, have we not answered ourselves in those last 200 years?
     
  12. peter grimes

    peter grimes ... Moderator

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    I think this misses the point entirely. Consider an analogy: Europe in 1491.

    A warring collection of nation-states, ethnics pockets, duchies and fiefdoms. There wasn't any entity analogous to what we call 'Europe' today. It took the discovery by these proto-Europeans of the Americas in order for them to see themselves as something that has more in common within itself than without.

    Likewise, I strong suspect that confirmation of another intelligence in the galaxy would have a similar effect on people all over the planet. Maybe not - I certainly could be wrong - but i don't think that sort of discovery would have a negative impact on people. If anything, it would be positive.

    Just because it may not be a 2-way communication doesn't mean it wouldn't have value. Especially considering how little money is actually involved.
     
  13. Gatsby

    Gatsby King

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    Assuming there are any highly advanced ETs in our part of the universe, the best we could realistically hope for is that they wouldn't care about us and wouldn't be interested in making contact with us (especially if they've been watching the things we broadcast!). At worst, they might conclude - again, based on our own broadcasts -that we are a dangerous, obnoxious and rapacious species which needs to be eliminated before we become a direct threat to them. At any rate, it doesn't seem like a very good idea to deliberately go out of our way to contact them.

    Speculations about what we will be capable centuries down the track also bring up another interesting point: considering how we are currently plundering our own planet, will there even be an industrial human civilization 250 years from now?

    That's an intriguing take on history. War in Europe certainly didn't stop after the discovery of the New World. In fact intra-European violence peaked during WW2, about 450 years after Europe first officially became aware of the New World. Since then, a range of factors - e.g. the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, economic development, the spread of democracy - have allowed Europe to remain relatively peaceful, for now at least. Awareness of non-Europeans (in America and elsewhere) has had very little to do with advancing the cause of peace within Europe itself. However, awareness of non-Europeans did contribute to the development of a racial superiority complex amongst European societies.

    Humanity's likely reaction(s) to the confirmation of extra-terrestrial intelligence is difficult to predict. Some possibilities include:

    *Indifference. Okay, so there are intelligent ETs somewhere out there. So what? We still have our various problems and we still have to live our day-to-day lives.

    *Development of a collective superiority complex (if we are more advanced) or a collective inferiority complex (if we are less advanced). A cursory glance at the history books gives you an idea of what lovely sorts of outcomes that would lead to. See my point above about European's superiority complex towards Native Americans. To get an idea of what a human inferiority complex towards ET might look like, have a look at the history of anti-Semitism in Western culture.

    *Denial. Remember back in the mid-20th century when humanity got its first pictures of Earth from space? Remember how all those scientists and philosophers and spiritual leaders and poets rejoiced at the profound implications of those photos which showed us just how incredibly beautiful and fragile and unique and insignificant and precious our Little Blue Planet was? Do you also remember how we couldn't be arsed to come up with a worthwhile 11th-hour global agreement at Copenhagen in 2009 to undertake collective action to avert a human-induced global climate disaster?

    *The 'best' case scenario is that we are indeed united by "our common humanity" i.e. against an alien Other. So in other words, the only way we can truly attain Peace On Earth And Goodwill Towards All Men is if we are united against an alien threat. That's a pretty cynical and sad reflection on us, don't you think?

    One-way communication with ETs might not be completely without value, but merely of very limited value (at best). As I said before, there are other more immediate and worthwhile concerns to which our species can - and should - devote its time and resources.
     
  14. peter grimes

    peter grimes ... Moderator

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    Gatsby, you are of course correct about the warrish history of Europe. I didn't mean to imply that wars between European powers stopped after contact. But the outlook changed.

    I suppose you'd find the mouiseover text of today's xkcd rather pithy ;)
     
  15. Terrapin

    Terrapin Prince

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    SETI was always a white elephant. For a whole variety of reasons, we are unlikely to ever find ETs by listening to EM signals from outer space. Take the SETI money and use it to study elementary physics. In all likelihood, we are isolated on out pale blue dot (thanks, Carl!) for as long as it lasts. The only way around it is a discovery which allows faster-than-light travel or communication. There is the slightest chance that a final (or at least new) theory of physics could allow for that.
     
  16. Gatsby

    Gatsby King

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    I like the graph, though it seems likely that China will put men on the moon within a few years. Ahh, the joys of having money to burn :king:


    The outlook changed how? And what was the practical effect of that changed outlook?

    Two other possible human reactions to the discovery of intelligent ETs might be:

    *An overwhelming collective sense of shame and embarrassment, when we realise what sort of things we've done and broadcasted to the universe over the years (although I admit this one seems a bit far-fetched!)

    *The formation of religious cults based on the worship of these ETs. Generally when religious cults arise, religious conflict isn't very far behind.

    I think the people who want to find ET should spend more time and effort investigating why they really want to find ET. My suspicion is that alot of the desire to find ET is driven by popular culture, especially shows like Star Trek: we desire to meet Mr Spock in person and have him tell us that Everything Is Going To Be Okay. I would imagine that more than a few SETI advocates are self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics who have substituted the religious craving for communion with god/s with a covert quasi-religious craving to get all the answers from wise and benevolent ETs. The desire for communion with god/s and communion with ETs both come from a need to not feel alone in the universe. This theme was explored in the movie Contact.
     
  17. MajKira

    MajKira King

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    ET is my best friend who will take me to Spaceee

    why have the mayans disappeared?
    They were in close contact with a ET civ

    They took them away

    Mayans left all their buildings behind
     
  18. Zelig

    Zelig Beep Boop

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    We're not really giving up radio wave transmissions, we're still using the spectrum for something.
     
  19. emzie

    emzie wicked witch of the North

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    I mean strong waves. My cellphone can't broadcast to Montreal let alone another star system.

    But it's not just a shift from radio to fibreoptics, it's also the shift to digital. A perfectly compressed digital signal is indistinguishable from noise without the key.
     
  20. Glassmage

    Glassmage The Desert Flame

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    The place is surviving. They even got a new shiny HQ! I go there from NASA Ames and it only takes ~10 mins and they have talks every Wednesday.
     

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