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SETI Reinvades Oz

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first SETI search, astronomers from around the world are going to tune into the stars, listening for aliens.  Frank Drake named his first attempt in 1960 after the land of Oz: Project Ozma.  Today’s searchers, looking at promising candidates with much better resolution, are once again paying tribute […]

SETI: To the Unknown, Full Speed Ahead

This year marks the 50th year of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).  Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute and one of its most outspoken spokesmen, made the cover of Sky and Telescope’s November 2010 issue.  He stands proudly over his Allen Telescope Array in his feature story, “Closing in on E.T.” celebrating […]

SETI Calls Alien Signals Unnatural

It may be harder to find alien radio signals than thought.  If aliens follow the human technological path of progress, they will move from analog to digital broadcasting in a century or less.  In that case, it will be much more difficult to eavesdrop on intelligent signals, because digital signals tend to be more focused, […]

SETI Uses Design Inference

Some astronomers are concerned that we may never detect aliens.  If alien civilizations “go digital” within a short time period, as humans have in a century since the invention of radio, the possibility of detecting their radio signals may be much smaller than earlier thought.  Zoe Macintosh wrote for Live Science, “Finding E.T. May Become […]

Many Stars Are Planet Destroyers

A NASA study is being called “Bad news for planet hunters.”  A survey of stars in globular clusters has not turned up the number of planets expected.  Astronomers conclude that stars in these presumably ancient clusters have long since devoured their planets or sent them careening out into oblivion.     The leading popular science […]

Taking the Sci-Fi Out of SETI

SETI might well stand for “Sci-Fi of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” with its ROI (return on investment) of zero in 50 years of searching (12/31/2009).  In his latest piece for Space.com Seth Shostak did the best he could to distinguish SETI as science, not science fiction, though plenty of the latter will be evident at a conference […]

Second-Guessing Aliens

If we haven’t yet communicated with aliens, can we know anything about their character?  Astrophysicist Gregory Benford of UC Irvine thinks we can surmise one thing: they are frugal.  Why?  “Whatever the life form, evolution selects for economy of resources,” he said.  Broadcasting is expensive, and transmitting signals across light-years would require considerable resources.”   […]

Wishing ET Upon a Star

What are the odds of finding extraterrestrials?  That subject has been discussed ad infinitum, but David Shiga at New Scientist thinks the odds just went up.  “Solitary suns like ours are not as rare as we once thought, boosting the likelihood that there are other life-friendly solar systems in the universe.”  It should be noted […]

Using Aliens to Titillate the Public

Geologists cannot even figure out our own planet (next headline), but some of them claim to know a lot about other planets – their geological history, and even their prospects for life.  Is it fair to tease the public with the L-word life when so much remains to be understood on the ground under our […]

Are There Limits to Scientific Speculation?  A Royal Case

Question: When does science become like a priesthood?  Answer: When its practitioners engage in speculation on big questions impossible to verify with empirical observations.  Is this what the chief astronomer in Britain is doing?     Sir Martin Rees certainly would not have thought of himself as a priest as he wrote an article for […]

Cosmologist Suffers Paranoid Delusions: Media Promotes His Views

“They’re coming to get us, and I’m sure of it, because I know everything.”  What would you think of someone who talked like that?  What if he were one of the most famous cosmologists alive today?  The man is Stephen Hawking – that wheelchair-bound math wizard who talks with a speech synthesizer and once fell […]

SETI and other Pointless Gimmicks

Astrobiologist Paul Davies sure knows how to ask interesting questions, and ruffle feathers in the process.  His new book about SETI, The Eerie Silence, reviewed by Leslie Mullen in Astrobiology Magazine, defaced some long-standing notions.  But are his suggestions any improvement?     Davies thinks the Voyager record was a “pointless gimmick.”  He thinks that […]

Search for Intraterrestrial Life Scores Big

Single-celled organisms may be tiny, but what they lack in bulk they make up for in volume and importance.  Scientists have been appreciating more than ever the ubiquitous presence of microbes on our planet and the roles they play to sustain the biosphere.     PhysOrg reported that half of the world’s life may lie […]

Who Should Be Listening to Scientists?

“Stop Listening to Scientists?” is an unusual title for a letter to Science.1  In a commentary last week prompted by the recent scandals regarding climate change, Kevin Robert Gurney (Purdue) made a shocking exclamation: don’t listen to scientists.  Here’s how he began. As a climate scientist and a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on […]

SETI, Miracles, and Comfort

Would knowledge that the universe is filled with aliens bring you comfort?  Or are you more comfortable thinking humans are alone in the universe?  Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, was interviewed briefly by Bill Hemmer on Fox News this morning, where only one answer to this idea was assumed.     Shostak came […]
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