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Chance of finding extraterrestrial life is ‘good,’ astronomers tell Congress

Alien life could be detected within 20 years, SETI astronomers told members told the House Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday. Senior astronomer Seth Shostak stated that several strategies have the potential to pin-point signs of life from other planets. Shostak, of the California-based SETI institute, said told the committee that one strategy could detect life within our own solar system.

“At least a half-dozen other worlds (besides Earth) that might have life are in our solar system. The chances of finding it, I think, are good, and if that happens, it’ll happen in the next 20 years, depending on the financing,” Shostak said.

The second way astronomers plan to detect extraterrestrial life is through looking for traces of methane or oxygen in the atmosphere of exoplanets. These two gases are often accompanied by evidence for life. Shostak said this technique could be proven effective in the next 20 years.

The Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) will implement a third strategy for locating alien life: intercept signals emitted from other planets, no matter if they are intentionally or accidentally produced. Intelligent life may have the means to send radio waves, among other wavelengths, out into space.

SETI astronomer Dan Werthimer said that some of our oldest television shows “I Love Lucy,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” have already interacted with 10,000 stars. Shostak added that intercepting other signals could have promising results because “even we, only 100 years after … the invention of practical radio, already have the technology that would allow us to send bits of information across light years of distance to putative extraterrestrials.”

“The nearby stars have seen ‘The Simpsons.’ If we’re broadcasting, maybe other civilizations are sending signals in our direction — either leaking signals the way that we unintentionally send off signals, or maybe a deliberate signal.” Werthimer told the House Science and Technology Committee.

“The fact that we haven’t found anything means nothing,” Shostak said. “We’ve only just begun to search.”