Fourteen years ago in Bremen, Germany, astronomer Seth Shostak gave a lecture that included a wager. “I bet everybody in the audience a cup of Starbucks that we would find E.T. within two dozen years,” he told a new audience in October. You don't have to be a Klaatu-level math whiz to calculate that Shostak has 10 years left before he'd have to shell out for a lot of tall drips. I'm talking about the coffee. Shostak is senior astronomer at the Center for SETI Research based in Mountain View, Calif. SETI stands for “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” of course, as the millions who have loaned out their home computer time for the SETI@home project know. He mentioned the wager at a session on the current state of the search for any signs of alien intelligence at the World Conference of Science Journalists in the San Francisco Bay Area. The SETI conversation in question took place on the University of California, Berkeley, campus. No protesters or extraterrestrials attended. Probably. “To have some reasonable chance of success,” Shostak said, “you'd have to look at at least a million star systems.” Which may be possible within the coffee challenge's time parameter, thanks to $100 million from Russian physicist and entrepreneur Yuri Milner in 2015 to establish what is called Breakthrough Listen—an effort to use multiple radio and optical telescopes to survey the million stars closest to us. (It recently came out that in 2015 Milner had invested in a start-up co-owned by Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is a senior White House adviser. Perhaps Milner's SETI funding represented his realization that looking for intelligent life in outer space was a better bet.) Read More: Scientific American
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