SETI: Politicians Don't Have the Will to Find Alien Life
We may have found extraterrestrial life already, were it not for politicians, according to SETI. Director of the Center for SETI Research Seth Shostak wrote a column in The Raw Story which asserted that a lack of motivation on the part of the government is the main hindrance to the search for alien life.
First, he clarifies that most astronomers and astrophysicists are virtually certain that there is life on other planets, and that "proof may come within a generation." New exoplanets are discovered every day, and according to the most recent calculations, as many as one in five stars may have an Earth-life planet that could support life. As a result, scientists estimate that there may be tens of billions of inhabitable planets in our galaxy alone. "It is hard to accept that all these worlds are sterile, a circumstance that would make us, and all the flora and fauna of our planet, a miracle," Shostak wrote. "Miracles have little status in science."
He then detailed the three different methods that are currently employed in the search for extraterrestrial life, and explained that funding is the main obstacle to each of their success. First, NASA is actively searching on planets that are relatively close to Earth that are considered to be prime candidates for extraterrestrial life, such as Mars and several of Saturn's and Jupiter's moons, Europa in particular. We know enough about the conditions on these planets to know that we likely wouldn't find humanoid aliens, but we could possibly find microbial life. And while microscopic life is much more difficult to find, we have plenty of methods that are already formulated and should be effective. The only problem is funding; as the search is mostly indirect, it is much more involved and would cost more money to perform efficiently than is currently allotted for the search.
The second method involves observing the atmospheres of faraway planets and searching for gases such as oxygen and methane, usually through high-powered telescopes. Unfortunately, observing these atmospheres is extremely difficult with our current levels of technology, since the planets are dim compared to the stars that they orbit. However, according to Shostak, we have all of the knowledge needed to update this technology, likely enough to make these crucial observations. "Various solutions to this problem have been imagined, including multi-element, orbiting telescopes and giant light blockers, or occulters, in space. Engineers could build this stuff within a dozen years, but only if they had the money."
The third method, currently employed by the SETI Institute, attempts to detect signs of technological advancement such as the emission of radio waves. Simple steps such as increasing the capacity of the receivers and using more antennae would expedite this method of searching for aliens, but they lack the funding to take these steps.
"For perspective, consider that the proposed 2015 NASA budget has about $2.5 billion for... categories that encompass all the planetary searches described above and more. That is considerably less than one-thousandth of the total US federal budget. The budgets for SETI, which takes the third approach, are a thousand times less."
He acknowledges that it has been difficult to invest in this search as a result of the uncertainty involved. If we did find alien life, it would be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. But on the other hand, there are no guarantees, so it often takes the back burner. But still, we have all of the knowledge and technology necessary to accomplish this feat, and according to Shostak, "if you don't ante up, you will never win the jackpot. And that is a question of will."