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  • A SETI Infographic

    2011 - 04.30

    UPDATE: At the behest of team SETI, a sequel to this infographic has been produced, showing how we can all pitch in a small amount of money, and DO something to restart the ATA.  SETIstars.org, get at it!

    So it looks like the Allen Telescope Array (which I mentioned previously on here) is falling onto the chopping block in this era of fiscal “emergency.”   To me, this sounds a lot like the recent battle to defund NPR or PBS, in that the money they need to continue is just . . . chump change in the grand scheme of finances.  They’re $2.5 million short, and for that, they’ll need to stop taking data and shut down the telescope array.  It deeply bums me out to think that such a low value is placed on the quest to find other intelligence in our universe.  When compared with so many other things that gladly get millions or billions of dollars, it’s maddening to see SETI so marginalized.  Do we really just not care??  Seriously??

    There’s an awesome article over at Wired Science, interviewing Jill Tarter about the whole deal.  Go check it.

    And to put things into perspective, I’ve whipped up this handy infographic, comparing how $2.5 million compares to so many other things that we absolutely must have, and will not hesitate to pay for:

    When I created this, I deliberately chose things that weren’t the most supreme.  For example, I priced a Predator drone @ $4.5M, instead of a Stealth Bomber, which is a cool billion.  The iPad sales dollars are probably much higher than I showed.  And I showed the Citigroup portion of the bailout, instead of the full bailout ($300B).  I also swapped the second and third to last entries in order to put the NASA budget immediately next to the DOD budget.  Imagine what we would know about the universe if those two were swapped.  (And maybe we could still lead the world by sheer power of inspiration.)  It’s the stuff of pipe dreams!

    Since the dawn of time, humans have looked up at the stars and wondered what they were, wondered what was out there.  Now that we have the technology to actually look, and even a good idea where to look, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, it’s all the more maddening that it should fall under the axe, deemed unimportant, unworthy of those precious dollars.  Sure, it’s true that there are innumerable causes out there which pull at our emotions and demand the attentions of our pragmatic sides.  But what outcome has higher stakes than finding out we’re not alone in the cosmos?  When that happens, human history will be split into two neat periods: before we knew about them, and after.  BC will stand for before contact, and AD will be replaced by AC; after contact.  Nothing else would transform our cultures, our politics, our religions, our folklores like knowing we’re not just a lone voice, but part of a galactic chorus.  The most recent findings tell us that “within a thousand light-years of Earth,” there are “at least 30,000” habitable planets, and there are “at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way” of which “at least 500 million” are in the habitable zone.  The glorious Milky Way, with its wealth of diversity and abundance of worlds  is right there waiting for us, if we could but pick up the receiver and listen.

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    38 Responses to “A SETI Infographic”

    1. How do we know these aliens are going to be friendly and just show up, give us cool technology but otherwise leave us alone? How do we know they won’t be hostile? Is broadcasting earths location really that smart of an idea? Isn’t SETI a possible threat to national security that should be shut down?

    2. Edwin says:

      You seem to imply Aliens need our dollars.

    3. Simple Man says:

      I wish SETI would still be funded. I don’t think you’ll find anything, but heck, space is cool and life is cooler. There are no aliens, never were and never will be. Humans are the most important, most special, in the cosmos and that is simply because we are made. We are no accident and whether we were spoken into existance by the mere words of a Creator or via evolution it doesn’t matter. The stars and the planets are there to give us awe and inspire humilty and respect for that creator.

    4. Paul Panza says:

      Earth has already made contact with numerous aliens. It is the governments of the world that do not recognize the fact or cover-up their own verified contacts. Here is a wonderful site: http://www.theyfly.com/ At this location you can learn about different star cultures that are trying to up grade Earth humanities low spiritual cultivation in a non-religion style.

    5. Rohvannyn says:

      Nice infographic. If anyone is interested in some new approaches to low cost space flight (I promise you it’s different than what you’ve seen), feel free to head over to http://spacelane.webs.com. It’s rather interesting, and the blog is updated every week. I too agree that SETI should have more funding, and so should the entire space program. The benefits to humanity are incalculable, and they only begin with the technological advances. If humanity is so wonderful and important, why do we persist in putting all of our eggs in one basket?

    6. Kevin says:

      I think SETI is a waste if we don’t have a means to communicate or even travel, put more money into VASIMIR and more research into even better rockets before we go back to SETI.

      • consider that it will definitely not be rockets that take us out of the solar system…. and maybe through communication, if we made the right friends, they might loan us the hardware to meet up someplace.

    7. tim lower says:

      I had the pleasure of getting to work on a project with Dr. Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute. That organization does a lot to benefit our society in many ways. One of which is the ability to identify and measure current human needs as expressed by everyday people from around the globe. SETI’s online Earth Speaks project asks people what messages they’d like to send in the event of contact with an extraterrestrial intelligent species (search “Earth Speaks” for the link to the site). These are currently the top nine themes from messages people would like to send, in the event of contact with an intelligent species elsewhere in the universe:

      We are humans of the planet Earth.
      You are alien to us, but you have know-how.
      Hello and welcome.
      Please help.
      Peace, love, and friendship.
      Mathematics and binary expressions.
      We feel alone and we are fearful, primarily of our own propensity for violence.
      Our gods and religions are influential in our lives.
      We recognize our cultural heritages and the civilizations they produce.

      Because people were asking for help, the team I was involved with to analyze that data did further analyses of the messages. We developed a way to identify human need across the globe according to geographic, demographic, and time-based variation. As the number of participants grows, researchers gain increasing potential to produce actionable results to meet the needs of people right now, here on Earth. In this case, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence elsewhere in the universe can help to make us a better, more self-reliant species here on our own home planet.

      I’m on the faculty of psychology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We had a research open-house today, so I got to talk about my research experiences in this area to a bunch of seventh graders. You should see their faces light up. They suddenly become interested in a scientific worldview, and ponder its potential in their lives. It was shocking to see how much they responded just like I did when I was their age and my parents let me watch Sagan’s Cosmos. That was my first exposure to science, and the potential that maybe someday I might get to study topics related to astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

      SETI topics inspire many children to learn, to dream, and to accomplish.

    8. justystarz says:

      Hey Bill Gates, be like your old pal Alan, please get off yer arse and fund SETI. Thank you.

    9. Mickey Blue Eyes says:

      Okay, before we spend $663 Billion for you to find E.T., riddle me this?

      How much taxpayer dollars have you spent already?

      How many space aliens have you found with it?

      What is your ROI (dollars per E.T.)?

      At least with $663 Billion, we have *something* to show for it. For $4.5 Billion, we at least have a Nimitz class aircraft carrier to show for it. For $477 Million we at least have a bunch of oiled up half-naked men “wrestling” with each other to show for it.

      And haven’t you seen Battle of L.A. or Independence Day? Inviting space aliens here can only end in disaster.

      • lol says:

        I think it’s pretty hysterical that you use paltry Hollywood blockbusters to gauge your feelings of the search for intelligent life elsewhere.

        You talk funny.

        • In retrospect, I should have included the box office take for the movie “Contact”, which was $171M. But yeah, I did deliberately choose something light and fluffy which made a gargantuan amount of cash. That was kind of the point–we happily create and consume these giant fantasy stories of fleeting entertainment value, while neglecting the more significant, real-life meaningful quests. Yes, I understand paying $50+ to take your family to go see Toy Story… it’s immediate gratification, it’s amusement, it’s a momentary distraction from the stress of life. But my point is that if more people considered the long story arc of the human species, dropping a small donation of your disposable income on this search is a better investment, for the future. When we find alien life, it will alter the collective consciousness of our species. Nothing else on this long list can touch that.

    10. The Dude says:

      Seriously I see it as a waste of resources as any “intellegent life” would not present itself, with the general world populas since recorded history have created wars and genocide in the name of many different gods, who they still staunchly blindly believe theirs is the “right” one. We (Humans) would not be ready to accept a more advanced and highly technical race who may “Know” there is or is not one. Space science,math and physics point to there not being one so even SETI identifying a not so advanced race they would be too far away to do anything about even with their Sputnik beeping away we could get there first. But we won’t as we will be long gone by then. So does anyone sell standard filter coffee? A ham or chicken sandwich without mayo would be nice too with no keach. But I guess I am asking too much with billions spent on other stuff.

      • Well, one thing to consider is that the human race doesn’t advance in lockstep. There are those of us who took college courses on nanotechnology, and there are those of us who believe in and still practice raindancing. There are also those of us who believe in crazy things like cloudbusters (go google that one!). There’s really no way of knowing what would happen if an alien race would come to visit us, or what their reasons would be for doing so. Maybe they would come here to loot the place and take all resources of value. Or maybe they’d come here because they see something in us that reminds them of themselves long ago. Some of us would beg to leave with them. Others would want to attack them. These alien intelligences would probably be abundantly aware of the varied reactions bound to occur, and make an effort to interact with only those of us worth their while and ignore the rest. I imagine by the time contact does occur, we’ll have a lot to offer them in terms of digitally stored data for them to analyze. If aliens are interested in culture, art, and a good story, I think we’ll have plenty to offer them. And just IMAGINE what knowledge we could possibly get in return. In the best case scenario, the encounter may be pleasant enough that we could hitch a free ride anywhere in the galaxy, without needing the eons and eons to develop such technology ourselves.

    11. The Dude says:

      I just want a coffee . Not a flat white, cappichino, chai latte, latte or whatever just a filter coffee! Stuff the space stuff as other intelligent life are just watching us fuck ourselves so I want a filter coffee before we do.

    12. Rafael Espericueta says:

      I recently heard someone quoted (but I can’t seem to find who?):
      ” We are the missing link between apes and human beings”.

      Indeed. Human beings wouldn’t kill each other in pointless wars. Human beings wouldn’t build nuclear power plants near major fault zones. Human beings wouldn’t put next quarter’s profits ahead of long-term survival. Human beings would surely fund SETI!!

    13. Jay Schwartz says:

      In its first release, the movie ‘Contact’ eventually grossed $171.12 million worldwide. The film had a budget of $90 million. You think Hollywood might kick in just a bit, huh?

    14. Chris Webb says:

      I know a lot of you will not like what I have to say. But that’s never stopped me before so here goes. First how common is life? Starting at the cellular level then taking hundreds of millions of years to evolve to a intelligent life form. ( the only one on this planet ) Surviving several mass extinctions. From a variety of sources. And Aliens having the ability to cross a very hostile and vast space. At the very same time that we exist. Which requires a very large source of resources and energy. These are just a few of the most basic problems with the idea of E.T. The truth is the more you really think about these problems the more apparent that we are just a cosmic accident. Plus it never ceases to amaze me just how full of ourselves that we would think that Aliens would come to visit us. Who are we? And I realize that SETI is looking for the signals of intelligent life not so much as the life itself. And the money is small potato’s compared to a lot of other things. I’m okay with it. I just think it’s a pipe dream.

      • glenn says:

        “The truth is the more you really think about these problems the more apparent that we are just a cosmic accident.”

        Any scientist worth their weight will tell you that there is no such thing as an accident. I’m not exactly sure of the point you’re trying to make, but I will say this: There is life on other planets. The question “is there life elsewhere in the universe?” is considered by the world’s scientific community as a boring question. The answer is yes. Even a few minuets of research into the odds of Earth having the only life in the universe shows that this is highly improbable, to say the least.

        • Kevin says:

          “Fermi Paradox-Wikipedia

          The fundamental problem is that the last four terms (fraction of planets with life, odds life becomes intelligent, odds intelligent life becomes detectable, and detectable lifetime of civilizations) are completely unknown. We have only one example, rendering statistical estimates impossible, and even the example we have is subject to a strong anthropic bias.”

      • It is a pipe dream alright. Paul Allen, the man whom the telescope array is named after, said it was (I paraphrase because google can’t seem to find it) ‘the most outside of outside chances’. Carl Sagan, the best science pitchman who ever lived, sold him on the idea. But IS it a pipe dream….? About the likelihood of life: toss some hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and water vapor into a flask, shake vigorously, shock it a bunch of times, and BOOM! Proteins and nucleic acids which self-replicate… LIFE!!


        Add 4 billion years of evolution and you have creatures as smart (or as dumb) as us! Take out the C-T extinction event, and it might happen a lot sooner. So life is easy to start building. It’s just really far away. And the habitats are abundant: 500 million planets in the “goldilocks zone”, not to mention moons. The most likely spots in our own solar system for other life are not the other planets, but their moons… Titan, Europa, Triton. The universe is vast, and surprisingly accommodating. To not listen for other life would be like sticking our fingers in our ears and yelling “LA LA LA LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA”

    15. PdlJmpr says:

      And where would the pursuit of science be without the protection, funding and stability of militarily strong governments? Even you should realize that without that protection science would be gutted by the dictators and the mobs. Sounds like the dog that bit the hand that feeds it.

      • You are absolutely right that a stable society is the foundation of all progress and knowledge. The tolerance of oddball characters who ask hard questions about entrenched ideas helps a lot too. You have a point when you say that military spending facilitates peace at home. Even with Bin Laden now gone, America has many enemies who would love to destroy her. This is part of the reason I said “it’s the stuff of pipe dreams!” when I talked about swapping the NASA and DOD budgets. You have your point. And I would agree with that point… but not to the tune of $663 billion. When our spending on the military is very close to the **rest of the world combined** we don’t have a healthy defense; we have a money-gobbling, greed-tinged, free-for-all of a military-industrial complex precisely as Eisenhower warned against. This is something that should be spoken out against. I agree that we need to spend the big bucks to keep america safe, but I disagree that we should spend ourselves back into the Reagan years doing it. The DOD budget is a wholly unreasonable number.

    16. Nate Hartman says:

      Yes, Starbucks should fund SETI, as should Citygroup, Oracle, Apple, Microsoft, ITOCHU Coup, Commercial Zen, Inc. and the governments and corporations of all nations.

      Every human on this planet “should be” driven to this.

      DONATE! …whatever you can with what you have to give. This is not about saving the Wales, Renewable Energy vs. Hydrofracking for Oil or any other “special interest” agenda. It is so much, much more. For some, a contribution would be as easy as tipping a valet. For others, perhaps it requires insight that is more enlightened and more personal sacrifice. However, fact that we do not as a species, easily contribute to this innately human endeavor, is definitive proof of an aspect of greed, which still lies within us. It indeed defines us as a mere baby race of life, which thinks it already owns the whole place.


    17. Joseph Truth says:

      We can take all the iDiots that buy iPads and go to Starbucks and fund it for decades.

    18. Cristian says:

      So sad and so true… In a way it shows all that’s wrong with human species…

    19. JakeG says:

      So does this mean Starbucks should fund SETI?

    20. Uncle Al says:

      Management exists to kill the future, for the only trusted employee is one whose sole marketable asset is loyalty. If a levied penalty is less than profit in hand, it’s not a deterrent – it’s a business plan. Theory is preferred to experiment because virtual mud packs tighter than real gems.

    21. Sergio says:

      I’m writting from Spain, and I can only think about that 2.5M$ is 2 months of salary of our most famous soccer player, Cristiano Ronaldo… Nice World, isn’t it?

    22. Bob says:

      You have a very nice website and are a very good and creative writer. I hope your blog continues to grow. It would help your search engine optimization (SEO) for google and bing and yahoo if you changed your permalinks to /%postname%/ so that the Title of this post would be in the URL. I wish you the best and thank you for the time and effort you put into it.

      • That is great advice, thanks! I think I will wait a bit longer until this SETI traffic bump dies down, because if I switch them now, it might break the links, and I don’t want to do that.

        EDIT: changed now!

    23. TommyM says:

      I think it’s sad but funny that you used the phrase “other intelligences” – can you really put us in the category of being an Intelligence, when the people we allow to be our so called ‘leaders’ can perpetrate such a travesty of values? We’re hardly more than apes. With big sticks, as you pointed out so well. Especially compared to what we might be likely to encounter, if those more Intelligent beings ever decided to end their boycott of this amoral, militaristic galactic backwater….
      But I guess we can always hope.

      • Well, our leaders maybe aren’t the best reflection of the intelligence of the species. Certainly a lot more than just ‘how smart you are’ is at play in determining who gets elected to high office. I supposed I would call us a ‘nascent intelligence’, particularly since real technology has only begun to emerge recently. Our own radio transmissions have been beaming out for less than a century. And as you say, when we do encounter these other intelligences, it would probably be one of two extremes; unprecedented destruction, or unprecedented advances/upgrades to technology. I feel optimistic about the latter.

    24. Well, you see, the thing is that the government already KNOWS that we’re not alone. In fact, they know that an alien invasion is imminent. Thus the money would be better spent on weapons.

      Or, this is the only reasonable explanation I can think of. I mean, it’s not like our government doesn’t know what it’s doing.