We'll find aliens in 20 years (we just need money), astronomers say

Speaking to Congress, two astronomers from SETI describe the chances of finding aliens as almost 100 percent.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Dr. Seth Shostak of SETI, alien hunter. Library of Congress screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

If I had more money, I'd have a Hollywood studio and only make movies with stars who could pronounce my name.

If I had more money, I'd have a winery that would make crazed blends culled from outre Croatian grapes and would ban fans of the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Yankees, and Manchester United.

With money, you see, you can dream of an ideal world. Which, for some astronomers is one where we've finally shaken hands -- at least symbolically -- with real-life aliens.

It's a noble aspiration.

Indeed, when Dr. Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute, and Dr. Dan Werthimer, of SETI at Berkeley (that's the Search for Extraterrestrial Institute at the University of California, Berkeley) talked to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology on Wednesday, you could tell that idealism was on one side and money was on another.

As ABC News reports, Dr. Werthimer insisted that the chances of microbial life being somewhere out there were "close to 100 percent."

He reasoned that there are so many planets in the cosmos that the mere law of averages would suggest there must be forms of life.

So there's really only one thing that stands between us and a close encounter: money.

"The chances of finding (alien life) I think are good, and if that happens, it will happen in the next 20 years, depending on the financing," Shostak told the collected politicos.

In 20 years time, we'll all be paying by Bitcoin and many of us, if Newt Gingrich has his way, will be living on the moon.

So why shouldn't we stump up a little money now, in order to prepare ourselves for life as we don't know it?

The astronomers' insights -- the full version of which is available here -- were at times quite mesmerizing. Shostak, for example, said he didn't think we are currently being visited by any aliens. (Not even on reality shows?)

He explained that if we were, all the world's governments wouldn't have kept it secret. This is rare, and perhaps misplaced, confidence.

Shostak also said he didn't think the pyramids were built by aliens. He feels the ancient Egyptians were really quite clever enough to have built them all on their own. "I know that's a radical idea," he said.

Werthimer, on the other hand, offered an even more startling rebuttal of a common terrestrial myth: "UFOs have nothing to do with extraterrestrials."

But don't people from out there always come here in flying saucers?

"When Jules Verne wrote about flying saucers, everybody started seeing flying saucers," said Werthimer. So the sightings, he feels, come from our imagination, rather than any observable fact.

Before flying saucers, Werthimer explained, people saw angels.

To all those who imagine that alien-seekers are mad scientists, Shostak and Werthimer offered a pleasing jolt. They 're serious about finding life in a universe so vast and old that it must hold secrets untold.

All they need is more money.

I will offer them a tinge of hope. According to the National Journal, the House Science Committee has held more hearings about aliens than about climate change.

So it's clearly a national priority. Now all the scientists need is to find some appropriate pork to smooth the path to more financing.

Perhaps it would be an idea if they could prove that pork can fly.