Humans will find aliens within a couple of decades, claims astronomer Seth Shostak of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, whose mission is to “explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe.” Currently, there is no evidence that aliens exist.
During an interview at the Worlds Fair Nano in New York City last month, Shostak stated that he “bet everybody a cup of coffee that we’ll find intelligent life within 20 years.”
Even though humanity has so far been unable to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life, other discoveries over the past couple of decades have been instrumental to the search. For example, experts now know that space contains a lot more uncharted territory than previously believed and there are a lot of unexplored planets located within livable zones of distant stars.
As for what type of alien life humans may discover, Shostak noted: “We may find microbial life — the kind you’d find in the corners of your bathtub. We may find that a lot sooner, but that remains to be seen. But it’s gonna happen, I think, in your lifetime.”
What will a first-contact scenario be like? Shostak explained it probably won’t be like it appears in the movies. He explained: “I don’t know about contact. I mean if they’re 500 light years away… you’ll hear a signal that’ll be 500 years old, and if you broadcast back ‘Hi we’re the Earthlings, how’re you doing?’ — it’ll be 1,000 years before you hear back from them. If you ever hear back from them. So, it does not exactly contact, but at least you know they’re there.”
What happens when humans do make contact with aliens? A loose plan was created in the ‘80s, but Shostak told Live Science in 2016 that a better system of protocols is necessary. The guidelines were created by governments and scientists, not the Earth as a whole.
“[The guidelines] say, ‘If you pick up a signal, check it out … tell everybody … and don’t broadcast any replies without international consultation,’ whatever that means,” Shostack said. “But that’s all that the protocols say, and they have no force of law. The United Nations took a copy of the early protocols and put them in a file drawer somewhere, and that’s as official as they ever got.”
It’s expected that researchers would share news about SETI signals with others around the world, but Shostak doesn’t know of an official government plan to deal with the first contact. He explained that the government has shown no interest in SETI research.