Edmonton·Video

Are we alone in the universe? Probably not, says astronomer

It’s a question that has inspired many men and women to stare up into the wild blue yonder, eyes wide and imaginations open. Are we alone?

'If I thought we were alone I would have gotten a different job because I can tell you, it isn’t so lucrative'

Dr. Seth Shostak with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute thinks alien life will be found. Here, he tells CBC's Alicia Asquith why. 3:11

It's a question that has inspired many of us to stare up into the wild blue yonder, eyes wide and imaginations open.

Are we alone?

Is it truly just us out there in the great expanse of the universe or is there something more?

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif., has an answer to that enduring question.

If there isn't anyone out there, that makes us really, really special. For a scientist to think we're really special is usually the wrong explanation.- Seth Shostak, astronomer

"If I thought we were alone, I would have gotten a different job because I can tell you, it isn't so lucrative to look for E.T. as a professional," said Shostak, referring to the alien from the 1982 movie. 

"I clearly think they're out there. There is a lot of real estate. The universe is vast, almost everyone is aware of that.

"If there isn't anyone out there, that makes us really, really special. For a scientist to think we're really special is usually the wrong explanation."

Haven't even scratched the surface

Shostak beamed into Edmonton to give a talk at the Telus World of Science Monday called "E.T., are you out there?"

The astronomer has been searching for extraterrestrials since 1991.

Asked why we haven't already made contact with beings from other galaxies, Shostak said it's because we haven't even scratched the surface.

The image of the unidentified flying object or UFO has become a part of popular culture. (Shutterstock)

"We have looked at a few thousand star systems. That may sound like a lot but given that our galaxy has a couple hundred billion stars  — I mean it's like going to Africa looking for large fauna that can pick up peanuts with their noses, looking at just one acre and saying, 'Well, there are no elephants here!'"

Artificial intelligence 

Shostak will explain to his Edmonton audience how modern technology is exponentially increasing the speed at which we can search the stars.

Mankind's attempt to create artificial intelligence will be a great help, he said. 

"We keep imagining that the aliens are going to be little grey guys with big eyeballs and no hair," said Shostak.

"The facts are they might be machines, a lot of them, because we're developing machine intelligence and they have already done that."

Shostak is optimistic he will be able to confirm in his lifetime that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. 

"I have to say to [the readers] they might very well be the first generation of homo sapiens to actually know that we have some cosmic company out there."

About the Author

Mack Lamoureux is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. He's a lover of strange and odd stories. He counts writing about himself in the third person among his least favourite things to do. mack.lamoureux@cbc.ca, @macklamoureux