Top Story: August 16, 2010

SETIcon

SETIcon

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence took place at the Santa Clara Hyatt over the weekend, and while ET wasn’t found by the end of the day yesterday, Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer for the SETI Institute believes that “we will find ET in the next two dozen years”.

Actually it was SETIcon that took place this past weekend, with sessions that covered everything from extraterrestrial life and how to find it, to asteroid hunting, multiverses and Pluto politics.

It was a mixture of fun (“Is Doomsday 2012 For Real or Will you Still Have to Pay Taxes in 2013?”) and hard science (Secrets of the Red Planet: What Have We Learned from Mars Exploration? “) that played well to the attendees. From the Mercury News:

SETI is a highly technical and technological scientific effort involving satellites, high-level computer analysis and some of the finest astronomical minds in the world.

On the other hand, most regular folks are far more interested in "Battlestar Galactica" and "Star Trek." SETI folks understand this and say the conference is part of their effort to teach science, raise money and generate public interest in their quest.

The crowd of teachers, scientists and fans of the SETI Institute were able to mingle with their rock stars—Frank Drake (the founder of SETI), Jill Tarter, and Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, among others. And there were real rock stars (and even TV stars), too.

It was Frank Drake who created the Drake Equation that estimates the potential number of technological (or intelligent) civilizations that may exist. According to NOVA:

There are hundreds of billions of galaxies, each bearing hundreds of billions of stars and perhaps billions of planets, so even if intelligent life is rare, we can't be completely alone, the argument often goes.

The Drake Equation, named after its creator, radio astronomer Frank Drake, is an attempt to frame the question scientifically by assigning a value to all the relevant terms, from the number of stars born each year in our galaxy to the number of stars with planets, and so on.

Or as Shostak said in the riveting and fun “Bad Astronomy: Astrology, UFOs, the Face on Mars, and More” session, basically the equation helps formulate the rate at which civilizations are born and how long they’ll stay around, suggesting the chances that contact with them is possible.

And that’s what gives Shostak his confidence in the communication with ET. But given the distances and time it takes for a message to travel, he believes it will only be a one-way conversation. Look for more information tomorrow as our SETIcon coverage continues with “ET—What and How”.

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