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Alien Contact To Be Made 'In 20 Years' Says SETI Astronomer Seth Shostak

13/03/2014 10:05 GMT | Updated 13/03/2014 10:59 GMT
DETLEV VAN RAVENSWAAY via Getty Images

A senior astronomer has claimed that aliens will contact humanity within 20 years.

Seth Shostak, a senior researcher at SETI, told Popular Mechanics that it is "no surprise" that humans have not so far been able to communicate with aliens (as far as we know).

Several projects such as SETI have attempted to crowd-source the search for aliens, so far without demonstrated success.

But Shostak said that the result is no surprise, since "limitations in equipment and money" mean that only a very small portion of the sky has been examined.

"You probably have to look at a few million star systems at very high sensitivity before you score a success. We haven't carefully examined anywhere near that number -- a few thousand at most," he said.

The good news is that our equipment is getting exponentially better all the time. Good enough, he reckons, that we'll succeed eventually. Or rather, we'll succeed sooner than you probably expect.

"We will be continually sifting through the sky faster. And you can extrapolate how fast we'll be able to search, assuming we have the money, in the next decade or two."

The other essential piece of evidence in his favour, besides Moore's Law, is simple maths.

There are more than a hundred billion suns in our galaxy alone, most of which (based on data from the Kepler space telescope) probably has several planets. And the chance that life exists on at least one, or several, at the right point for their signals to reach us while we're not being hit by a deadly asteroid?

Well, it's more than nil.

The sad thing is that if we do hear from aliens, we won't really be able to talk back. The signals reaching us will have been seen eons ago. But Shostak isn't deterred.

"I studied Latin in high school, and I was reading stuff from Cicero. And that signal took a few thousand years to get to me. But I was still interested in what he had to say. Also, keep in mind that if there are a lot of intelligent societies out there right now, tens or hundreds of thousands, then the nearest ones could be just a couple hundred light-years away. Of course, even that distance means you're not going to get into conversation."