Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

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Many people believe that there is some form of life beyond the earth. But is there any scientific evidence for extra-terrestrial intelligence?

Scientists have even recently found the amino acid glycine on a meteor. That might not sound all that exciting, but glycine is a chemical building block of organic proteins, a tiny signature life itself. Astronomers are also continually on the lookout for water out there in space, since H2O is a requirement for life, at least as we know it. But finding life in outer space (something that looks rather promising), and finding intelligent extraterrestrials are two very different things.

* Naysayers and the Fermi paradox *

In the 1950s, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked his Los Alamos colleagues "Where is everybody?" Meaning that, if there is intelligent extraterrestrial life, you'd think we'd have heard from them by now.

In more scientific lingo, the Fermi Paradox states:

Because the universe is infinite, one would be inclined to believe that there is intelligent life beyond earth. However, no matter how logical this belief is, it is inconsistent with our lack evidence to support it. So, either the initial assumption is incorrect and technologically advanced intelligent life is rarer than we think, our current observations are incomplete and we have not detected them yet, or our search methodologies are flawed (i.e we aren't looking for the right kind of evidence).

* Not Everyone Is a Fan of Fermi *

SETI and the Fermi Paradox were recently discussed on National Public Radio's Diane Rehm Show, "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life", August 20th 2009. The guests interviewed included. Alan Boss, research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington; Eric Korpela, SETI@home Project Scientist and Research Astronomer; Jill Tarter, Director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute's Center for SETI Research; and Jon Jenkins, Principal Investigator for the SETI Institute at NASA Ames Research Center.

During the interview, Dr. Tarter (the researcher who Jodi Foster's character in the movie "Contact" was largely based on) discussed the Fermi Paradox and voiced her disagreement, asking "How can we conclude that intelligent extraterrestrials aren't out there. We've hardly begun to look." She compared our to-date search for ET to the act of dipping an 8 ounce glass into the ocean to sample aquatic life.

In summary, all we can do for now is keep looking. As the X-files assured us, "The truth is out there."

For more information, see:

SETI Institute SETI Berkeley NPR Diane Rehm Show, "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life".

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