Astronomers in the United States have told the US congress that the search for extraterrestrial life is “plausible and warrants scientific inquiry”
Dan Werthimer and Seth Shostak of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley presented evidence to the House Committee to secure further funding to find alien life in outer space.
“In the last fifty years, evidence has steadily mounted that the components and conditions we believe necessary for life are common and perhaps ubiquitous in our galaxy,” said Werthimer in his written testimony.
“There may even be primitive extraterrestrial life in our own solar system, perhaps on a moon of Jupiter or Saturn. Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, is thought to have a liquid water ocean beneath its icy surface, perhaps a good environment for life as we know it.”
The pair said that although “no evidence exists for the presence of life outside of the Earth”, the sheer abundance of planets – “roughly one trillion in our Milky Way galaxy; three times more planets than stars” – suggests that the universe is “teeming with primitive life.”
The SETI institute (short for “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”) does not actively look for primitive life, but instead uses radio and optical telescopes “to search for evidence of advanced civilizations and their technology on distant extrasolar planets”.
Werthimer and Shostak pointed out that Earth itself has been beaming out radio and television signals into the cosmos for the last 85 years (nearby stars are already receiving episodes of The Simpsons) but that this time span is only an instant compared to the four billion year history of life on the planet.
“We are just now developing the tools and technologies that might detect distant civilizations,” said the pair. “There could be radio or laser signals from extraterrestrial civilizations reaching our planet right now, but we would most likely not detect these signals with these early SETI projects.”
Since its inception, SETI has organized a number of programs designed to sift through potential emissions from extraterrestrial sources, including the SETI@home program that uses downtime on ordinary peoples’ computers to analyse incoming data from the likes of the Arecibo telescope – the largest radio telescope in the world.
However, Werthimer said that the US was in danger of being overtaken by other nations, with China currently developing a radio telescope 500 metres in diameter (larger the Arecibo) that, alongside the internationally-funded Square Kilometre Array, “may soon become the world’s preeminent radio SETI observatories.”