The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

101° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Otherworldly eavesdropping

    Intelligent life exists outside Earth, according to a researcher who likens his work to topics usually reserved to science fiction movies.

    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, or SETI, in Mountain View, Calif., uses radio waves to search for otherworldly beings.

    “”The principal occupation (at the institute) is to find something out there that is at least as intelligent as the residents here in Tucson,”” Shostak said.

    Shostak, who will be speaking on campus tonight, searches for intelligent life outside our planet by listening for signals, much like Jodie Foster’s astronomer character in the 1997 movie “”Contact,””he said.

    “”The universe is three times as old as the earth, so extraterrestrial life may be more advanced than that.””
    -Seth Shostak
    Senior Astromomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute

    Shostak said he believes humans will receive transmissions from extraterrestrial life because aliens are more technologically advanced than humans.

    Intelligent life outside Earth probably will not have the physical appearances that they do in the movies and they might not even be biological life forms, Shostak said.

    “”The universe is three times as old as the earth, so extraterrestrial life may be more advanced than that,”” Shostak said.

    Although there is a belief that extraterrestrial life will be physically similar to humans, Shostak said, humans are unique on Earth since they have four appendages, while other creatures, like insects, have six appendages. Consequently, extraterrestrial life could look like anything, not just humans, he said.

    “”We cast the aliens as just other humans with less hair,”” Shostak said.

    About 10 years ago, SETI received a radio signal they believed was not of this world. The institute receives signals all the time from other transmissions on the planet that can be dismissed within a few minutes, Shostak said.

    This one was more difficult to pinpoint and lasted for almost a day.

    “”It certainly had everybody’s heartbeat up,”” Shostak said. But the transmission was later discovered to have come from a European research company.

    However, Shostak said today’s undergraduates will be the ones to receive a transmission.

    “”It’s a subject that the populace is quite interested in. … Look at all the media on the subject,”” Shostak said, referring to science fiction movies, books and television shows like “”The X-Files.””

    Shostak said he has always been interested in the subject, and read books about UFOs when he was 11 years old.

    Shostak will be speaking on campus tonight at 7 p.m. in Room 108 at the Center for Creative Photography. The talk is part of a speaker series, “”Astrobiology and the Sacred, Implications of Life Beyond Earth,”” a project that is now in its third year.

    “”I expect the audience is going to grill me like a cheese sandwich,”” said Shostak, who gives more than 50 talks annually.

    Shostak, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a doctorate in astronomy, hosts the SETI Institute’s weekly radio program “”Are We Alone?””

    The goal of the speaker series is to gather a wide range of people – including theologians, writers and scientists from different disciplines – to discuss how theology and science fit together when talking about life outside our planet, according to event organizers.

    “”We hope to straddle the gap between science and humanities,”” said Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy and one of the organizers of the speaker series. “”They’ll get some sense of the connectivity of the sciences.””

    Impey said life on Earth is diverse and abundant, and the universe so expansive, that it would be surprising to scientists if there was not life outside Earth.

    As for disbelievers, Impey said: “”Go to any of the science lectures in the series, like Seth’s lecture, and their minds will be changed.””

    Robert Zollman, a sociology junior, said while there is no evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life in our galaxy, there could be in another.

    “”I do think there is some other living organisms somewhere,”” Zollman said, citing the recent work on Mars, which may have found evidence pointing to a life-supporting environment. “”Could be true, could not be true.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search