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Starts With A Bang

Starts With A Bang podcast #78: From failed stars to SETI

There really might be extraterrestrials out there, attempting to make contact. Here's how science, not fiction, is attempting to find them.
This image of the Very Large Array in the southwestern United States highlights the importance of arrays of radio dishes in measuring many different properties of our Universe, including searching for potential extraterrestrial signals that were created by an intelligent species. (Credit: Alex Savello/NRAO)
Key Takeaways
  • There's almost certainly life out there beyond Earth in the Universe, and there's a chance that their might be intelligence out there, too.
  • But waiting for aliens to contact us, or even to visit us, is no scientific way to approach what might be out there. 
  • Instead, we're actively searching for signals that may be uniquely alien in nature, and SETI, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence, is our best bet for finding it.

When you start looking at the Universe, you realize that there are more signals out there than are simply generated by stars. On the one hand, you have astrophysical objects like gas, dust, plasma, as well as stellar corpses and their remnants. But there are also failed stars that didn’t quite make it to the nuclear fusion stage that defines our Sun and the other stars like it: brown dwarfs.

Beyond that, there may also be signatures of planets like Earth out there: planets inhabited by an intelligent civilization. It’s of paramount importance, when asking the biggest questions, to make sure that we aren’t fooling ourselves, but that’s where projects like SETI and Breakthrough Listen come in: to help us extract legitimate science where “wishful thinking” has the potential to lead us in precisely the most dangerous direction: the possibility of fooling ourselves.

Travel the Universe with astrophysicist Ethan Siegel. Subscribers will get the newsletter every Saturday. All aboard!

I’m so pleased to welcome Ph.D. Candidate Macy Huston to the podcast, as we explore the less commonly seen side of the Universe: from exoplanets to brown dwarfs to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. With the advent of the James Webb Space Telescope, we really are going to see a tremendous change in what we know!

Check out the Starts With A Bang podcast archives here!

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