The Santa Monica Amateur Astronomy Club will host renowned Dr. Seth Shostak for an in-person talk on Saturday, May 13, 2023. Shostak is a senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, a non-profit research organization established in 1984 that aims to explore and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe.
While part of the Institute’s mission is to look into the cosmos to understand how life began here, it could be said that its bigger purpose is to actively search for evidence of life beyond our own planet. And it’s not just random radio signals that scientists are looking for.
“One of my favorite ways to look for the aliens, which isn’t necessarily looking for signals, because they may or may not be sending signals our way, is to look for artifacts,” Shostak says. He’s not talking about ancient Stargate-style portals that might be buried under the sands of ancient Giza, he’s talking about detectable signs of advanced alien civilizations.
“Well, I don’t know about that [finding an ancient Stargate] that sounds extremely unlikely, but I’m talking about things like Dyson Spheres. And artifacts are something that we don’t really emphasize enough in the SETI field.”
A Dyson Sphere isn’t the latest vacuum cleaner or hand dryer, it is a hypothetical concept where a singular, solar system-sized megastructure encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its solar power output. The idea was explored 1960 by the physicist Freeman Dyson and it’s an attempt to theorize how an advanced civilization would meet its energy requirements once those requirements exceed what can be generated from the planet’s resources alone. Since only the smallest fraction of a star’s energy emissions reaches the surface of any orbiting planet, with the rest disappearing off into space, a structure that completely surrounds a star would enable a civilization to collect massive amounts of energy.
“It’s something that a society that might be a million years more advanced than ours might do, they might try to rearrange their local corner of the universe and we might be able to see that,” Shostak says.
To put all of this into some sort of context, anatomically modern humans emerged around 300,000 years ago and the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years, that’s 15,000 times longer. However, the universe has been in existence for 13.7 billion years, three times as long as the Earth and 46,000 times longer than humans. Add the fact that there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone — each with the potential to have orbiting planets — and it is thought that the universe contains two trillion galaxies, it’s entirely possible that an alien race far more advanced than ours has evolved. Somewhere.
“Planets are not in short supply, but we haven’t found any conclusive proof that there’s intelligent life out there. We haven’t found any clear evidence that there’s somebody there. And we don’t even know whether life is a commonplace or not. We think it is, but we haven’t even found evidence on Mars yet,” Shostak says.
“So these are all active areas of research and, you know, it could happen tomorrow that we find some sort of remnant of biology on one of the nearby planets or moons of our solar system. And that would be very important, because that will tell us that indeed, what’s happened on Earth has happened to other planets.”
“It’s a curiosity to know that there’s somebody out there and I think that’s worth all the research and experimentation right there, just to know that you’re not the only kid on the block,” says Shostak.
Founded in 1981, the Santa Monica Amateur Astronomy Club (SMAAC) is open to absolutely everyone. The club holds monthly talks on a variety of topics usually on the second Friday of every month at the Wildwood School, 11811 Olympic Blvd. To attend the meeting via Zoom, or for any other inquiries, send an email to email@example.com.
“We’ve had an embarrassment of riches, 30 years of luminary speakers from JPL, NASA and the Carnegie Observatories, but Dr. Shostak is a special thrill for us,” says Adam Wolman, SMAAC Communications. “Not only is he a brilliant scientist, but he’s done so much to popularize the serious work behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.”
Shostak has been the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute since 2001 and he was the chair of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Committee from 2003-2012. Frequently interviewed for radio and TV, Shostak has been on Discovery Channel, History Channel, the BBC, Good Morning America, NPR, CNN and National Geographic. He is also the host of a one-hour weekly radio program on astrobiology entitled Big Picture Science. In 2015, he won the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.