back to article SETI mulls reboot: Believing the strangest things, loving the alien

SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) is both exciting and disappointing: exciting because of peoples' eternal wish for someone else to be out there; and disappointing because life proves so hard to find. The SETI Institute's Nathalie Cabrol is wondering whether the whole idea needs something of a reboot, a …

  1. Long John Brass

    Step 1.

    Step 1 Find life

    Step 2 Find intelligent life

    Step 3: ???

    Step 4: Profit

    1. Ididntbringacoat

      Re: Step 1.

      Step 1 - define "intelligent life".

      You're welcome.

    2. Captain DaFt

      Re: Step 1.

      "Step 3: ???"

      Step 3: Don't get eaten by them.

  2. Oengus

    Alien search

    We have found Aliens and they are among us. Look to the US presidential election.

    1. Darryl

      Re: Alien search

      Wait. I thought we were looking for intelligent life?

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Alien search

        "Wait. I thought we were looking for intelligent life?"

        On my more cynical days, I feel that the first true sign of intelligent life on Earth would be the immediate and permanent withdrawal of itself from the Planet.

    2. IT Poser

      Re: Alien search

      Don't blame me. I voted for Kodos.

  3. Alister

    You're an Alien from outer space!

    "No, I'm from Iowa, I just live in outer space".

    1. Afernie

      Re: You're an Alien from outer space!

      At least his weird friend isn't an alien. Just did a little too much 'LDS' at Berkeley.

      1. Dr. G. Freeman

        Re: You're an Alien from outer space!

        LDS at Berkeley...

        One of the BIG mistakes in my life..

        What's that, Oh yes dear, coming.... *groan*

    2. Alister

      Re: You're an Alien from outer space!

      Downvotes for Star Trek quotes, what is the world coming too?

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: You're an Alien from outer space!


  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Limited by the speed of light

    The issue has always been, the Universe is a big fucking place and light is slow in the cosmological scale.

    And by the time the data gets here, it's so weak and corrupt as to be indistinguishable from white noise.

    It's either going to come from optical observations of the chemistry of remote planets, or from 'look at me' cosmological events that are unexpected (e.g. a civilisation playing with tech on a massive scale - move-a-sun type events).

    Or it will come from local evidence - info encoded on our DNA - if we were seeded from extra terrestrial (unlikely).

    But radio signals - unless they are using pulsars to send more code - hardly likely.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: if we were seeded from extra terrestrial (unlikely)

      Um, but we were seeded.

      Not by extraterrestrials, but by asteroids.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: if we were seeded from extra terrestrial (unlikely)

        All they have found in asteroids are a few relatively simple organic compounds such as the less difficult amino acids. No RNA, no proteins, no chlorophyll or haemoglobin.

        So our DNA was probably invented on planet Earth.

    2. Stryker007

      Re: Limited by the speed of light

      You also should of pointed out that time is so vast too. Countless forms of intelligent live could of been and gone before we showed up and I'm sure long after we too are gone

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Limited by the speed of light

        100% agree with you, Stryker, but I have to point out - should have, could have

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: Limited by the speed of light

      "And by the time the data gets here, it's so weak and corrupt as to be indistinguishable from white noise."

      Given today's, or any foreseeable, technology of the future, the only way to deliberately communicate with another solar system's intelligent life is the old standard "message in a bottle".

      Sending out probes with the message, "This is Who and where we are.", like we did with the voyagers, and hoping that someday, somehow, someone else finds them.

      In all probability whoever sent them will be long gone by the time we find any, but at least we'd know that they once existed.

    4. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Limited by the speed of light

      In the category of "look at me" events, I remember many years ago reading a story that postulated we could figure out what types of advanced spacecraft drives were possible given the laws of physics as we know them, then look for their emission signatures. These mostly focused on fusion-powered photon drives, which would have pretty distinctive Doppler shifts. It was beyond a long shot, but it did strike me as clever in that we already had much of the data we'd need to do a search. If nothing else, an interesting thought experiment.

  5. Mage Silver badge

    Radio is daft.

    Picking up radio is limited to a few light years range due to cosmic noise and inverse square law unless someone has massive dishes pointing straight at us. Even then the range isn't great. It's doubtful our own ordinary transmissions can even be received at the nearest star.


    three basic questions:

    1 How abundant and diverse is intelligent life in the universe?

    2 How does intelligent life communicate?

    3 How can we detect intelligent life?


    1) We can't answer the first question at all.

    2) No communications method we know is practical for interstellar distances, so forget this question, it's irrelevant. We aren't going to "eavesdrop". The inverse square law and Shannon's law mean that's probably impossible.

    3) The only current practical method for Interstellar distances is spectroscopy. You are using the power of a star as the remote transmitter and detecting the adsorption in the atmosphere of a planet transiting between us and the star. Not all planets will transit between us and stars.

    Unless we discover a whole new branch of physics we are limited to spectroscopy. We need to have no preconceived ideas and examine each spectrograph. Oxygen and carbon Dioxide has a signature. If there are additional chemicals that seem to be in unnatural proportions, we might conclude we have found possible evidence.

    How do we communicate if we thing we have found life? Radio or Laser won't work, too far even if they were "looking" in our direction. We can send a probe that takes hundreds or thousands of years to get there.

    We can't know if we discover unknown stuff in the future that allows "ansibles", stargates, warp drive, artificial wormholes or "jump" drive. Those are all SF today. Contrary to popular belief, Quantum Entanglement can't be used for instant communications but only to verify a light speed message hasn't been tampered with.

    So Spectroscopy.

  6. Slx

    It's more likely that we've yet to discover some method of signaling across huge distances. We're probably missing something to do with gravity or quantum entanglement.

    Considering that human civilization existed for millennia without producing any radio signals and we're actually going back to cables as we need fibres to carry serious amounts of data that radio couldn't cope with.

    If anything our signals are getting harder to detect, the more advanced we've become. A small number of very Powerful radio transmission systems was replaced with networks of transponders, those were replaced with more and more cable systems and very low power cellular systems.

    We've also moved to a billions of low power digital transmitters (mobiles, wifi, Bluetooth etc ) that likely just create noise that could be easily mistaken for a natural phenomenon.

    The only thing I think might make us detectable is satellite uplinks. We are constantly beaming fairly powerful, directional signals at satellites in orbit. A large % of that radiation goes right past the target satellite and off into space.

    We've also assumed that ET isn't deliberately maintaining radio silence. If space life is anything like earth life, announcing your whereabouts mightn't be adjusted m advisable.

    We're only really decades into high tech and space technology. They could be either running around in a pre technology societies that we will never detect, or centuries or millennia or even millions of years ahead of us.

    You've got to make assumptions to begin any kind of seti but, we're very likely missing a hell of a lot of stuff.

  7. ntevanza

    Steven Wright was there first

    A UFO landed in my garden and two one-inch guys got out.

    You're very small, I said.

    No, they said, we're just very far away.

  8. ntevanza


    Looking for life that's like us and not far away will help make that first date a lot less awkward.

  9. Mark 85

    Wishful thinking department....

    I, and others, believe that as in the past about this, it is just wishful thinking. As other commenters point out, given the distances, the speed of light, tech improvements in communication, even if there is intelligent life, our chances of eavesdropping on them is probably slim to non-existent.

  10. Prophet Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

    What if God sent sent a message?

    How would they prove that it was not the intelligent Creator of heaven and earth?

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re Heaven Sent Messages .....

      .... Hell on Earth Scripts to Intellectually Challenged Beings with Learning Difficulties

      Is Creative Messaging on Earth to and from Global Operating Devices, an alien master pilot for online plotting of future events for current presentations/media mainstream delivery with New Orderly World Orders and Autonomous Anonymous Elite Executive Bodies, or AI and a Virtual Machinery Makeover with Remote Takeover Facilitation of SCADA Command and Control Systems Leverage?

      Or would y'all wish for it and its IT Systems Administration to be classified way above and beyond TS/SCI Mk Ultra Umbra and Foreign State Actor Designated whenever a Non State Actor Affiliations and AIMoniker would reveal and energise Almighty Invisible and Energetic Intangible Forces and Novel Cosmic Sources?

      Would any such wish in a world of worlds consistently constantly fed precious little more than just a debilitating daily din, be heard to be heeded, or simply noted and immediately dismissed as not needed to be seeded by IntelAIgent Life Phorms.

      And are all human centric systems, bar none, SCADA Command and Control Systems and catastrophically insecure and flash crash vulnerable to massive novel information dump and PACT* Pack Attack/Hostile Virtual Terrain Team Sortie?

      And the truly EPIC answer to that vital question is a resounding YES.

      * Persistent Active Cyber Threat with Wild Wacky Western Delights and Exotic Erotic Eastern Treats

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intelligent life amd IT

    I run the SETI screensaver at work, much better than the screensaver that is forced onto our monitors.

    I like the graphics, very relaxing to watch and ponder. For example, is there intelligent life out there? I don't just mean among the stars, but in the organisation I work in, and the people I work with.....

  12. Roj Blake Silver badge

    As Eric Idle would say...

    So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure

    How amazingly unlikely is your birth

    And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space

    'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth

  13. Slx

    Might as well keep looking ...

    It would be fairly sad if we became so self-absorbed that we just stopped exploring and sniffing around of life beyond Earth.

    I really enjoy SETI and astronomy's pure optimism and just wonder about what's out there.

    I was just thinking the other day that while people are prattling on about xenophobia, mass shootings, terrorism, Trump, Brexit, wars raging, economies crashing, the nicer side of humanity has ignored all that nonsense and sent a probe to frigging Jupiter - just to see what's there! Between NASA, the ESA, SETI, the Russian space agency and increasingly other high tech nations and players, at least some of us are still looking beyond our own navels.

    If it wasn't for some of these things, and we just had to listen to right wing politicians bickering, terrorists blowing things up and economists analysing supply and demand all day and reducing human activity to dull mathematical formula about accumulating wealth, it would be a very depressing little planet.

    Who knows, we may never find any life outside earth, but it's well worth looking!

  14. JJKing

    "No, I'm from Iowa, I just live work in outer space".


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