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SETI – why bother?

The search for intelligent life

A lot could depend on what we mean by intelligent. Dolphins, for example, are quite intelligent social creatures but they have no technology. Crows and chimpanzees have technologies – they are capable of using tools. Humans have technologies that include use of the invisible radiations of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as radio waves.

We’ve been sending out radio waves for about a century, and the waves carry organised information (since that is what we use them for). So any technological life-forms that have the ability to detect the waves and that are less than 100 light-years away could already know that we are here.

We can scan space ourselves to look for radio waves (and laser beams) from technological life-forms. It’s already happening, and the searches are called SETI projects

SETI stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

The mission of the SETI Institute itself is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. We can also look for life in general by searching for Earth-like planets, as in the Darwin Project.

Next: Should we tell them that we’re here?


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jessica 05-06-13 18:27
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Radio telescope

The Deep Space Network provides radio communications for all of NASA's interplanetary spacecraft and is also utilized for radio astronomy and radar observations of the solar system and the universe. Credit: NASA