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Surprising Science

The Search for Life on Other Planets Continues

Astronomer Jill Tarter, director of the SETI Institute, stopped by Big Think today to talk about the question she’s spent her career trying to answer: Is there intelligent life on other planets? It’s something we could discover tomorrow, or never at all. As Tarter says, that first signal that something’s out there would mean everything. In science, a single example could be unique; but if we found out that there’s one other form of life out there, the implications of additional lives are limitless. Tarter and her team at SETI are waiting for the day that a signal is detected; they even have champagne on ice in all of their labs.

What would we do if we detected a signal? That’s where the hard part begins. Deciding what message to send back, and who to put forth as the representative of Earth will surely be complicated. In the end, once earthlings found out that there was something out there, millions of people would send their own signals, and the messages we’ll end up emitting would be cacophony.

Recent Big Think interviewee Paul Davies, a cosmologist and astrobiologist, tackled similar questions, worrying that anyone might send signals purporting to be a spokesman for mankind. He said that if we are sending messages to the stars then there needs to be a great deal of thought behind what we say, and deciding that “should involve the entire not only scientific

community, but the entire world community.”

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