Sigma: August 8, 2017

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When Will We Find E.T. and What Happens If We Do?

Seth Shostak

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 7:30 P.M. at the Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton, Virginia


Are we alone in the universe? The scientific hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence is now well into its fifth decade, and we still haven’t discovered any cosmic company. Could all this mean that finding biology beyond Earth, even if it exists, is a project for the ages – one that might take centuries or longer?

New approaches and new technology for detecting sentient beings elsewhere suggest that there is good reason to expect that we could uncover evidence of sophisticated civilizations – the type of aliens we see in the movies and on TV – within a few decades. But why now, and what sort of evidence can we expect?

Also, if we do find E.T., what would be the societal impact of learning that something, or someone, is out there?


Seth Shostak claims to have developed an interest in extraterrestrial life at the tender age of ten, when he first picked up a book about the solar system. This innocent beginning eventually led to a degree in radio astronomy, and now, as Senior Astronomer, Seth is an enthusiastic participant in the Institute’s SETI observing programs. He also heads up the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Study Group.

In addition, Seth is keen on outreach activities: interesting the public – and especially young people – in science in general, and astrobiology in particular. He’s co-authored a college textbook on astrobiology, and continues to write trade books on SETI. In addition, he’s published nearly 300 popular articles on science, gives many dozens of talks annually, and is the host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science” And, as might be evident from this overly effusive bio, he is also editor of the Institute’s Explorer magazine.