What the Planetary Society Does

Bill Nye: The Planetary Society is the world’s largest non-governmental space interest organization, and for many years—over 30, 31 years—we’ve supported the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  The Planetary Society is the only organization now that does optical searches, so we have a telescope that looks, if you will, for laser signals from other civilizations, and you might say that sounds crazy.  We support various radio telescopes including the only one in the southern hemisphere that listens for radio signals from other civilizations.  And you say, well, you haven’t heard one.  That’s right.  But if we did, it would change the world.  

So it’s a very, very high risk thing.  There’s no guarantee, absolutely no guarantee of success, but I can assure you that we will never hear a signal if we don’t listen.  So that’s why we pursue this kooky thing.  So there’s people—35,000 people around the world—that think this is cool, and they send us a little bit of money, and we keep working.  So you don’t do the Apollo Moon Program on this thing.  You don’t fight another cold war and spend four percent of the gross national product.  It’s just something you keep going all the time. 

As a society, a developed society with the intellectual capacity and treasure to do a search, you’ve just got to search.  I mean, you got to keep it going in the background in the hopes that one day you will make contact with something, you will get a signal.  You know, we inadvertently broadcast our television signals into space all day, all night, all the time.  Perhaps there is another civilization doing the same thing, not intentionally trying to get hold of us but sending out signals.  It’s not crazy.  

When are we going to receive the signal?  It could be right now.  It could be . . . an Arecibo telescope could be receiving it right now, and here we are squandering our time doing this idle chat.  No.  But it may be years, it could be any moment we detect the signal.  So it is reasonable that if there is another society that has this capability and is broadcasting all the time in the same way we are, we just have to show up at the right moment.  The signal is out there, we just have to be ready for it. 

Directed / Produced by 
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

The Planetary Society is the only organization now that does optical searches, so we have a telescope that looks, if you will, for laser signals from other civilizations.

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