NASA image of radio telescopes

This is why Congress is going to spend $10 million on alien hunting (and it’s totally worth it)

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May 15, 2018

There is one four-letter word that was taboo in Congress for years, and it’s not what you think. SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is back on the government’s radar for the first time in 25 years, possibly because of a vehement climate denier, definitely because it will give NASA a tremendous boost in seeking out life-forms beyond Earth.

The objective of a new bill proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives includes $10 million in alien-hunting funds for NASA "to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe."

Technosignatures are any technological advances made by an extraterrestrial civilization, and include the radio waves the SETI Institute is constantly on the lookout for as well as any other evidence of technology that didn’t originate on our planet, including pieces of computers, spacecraft, and maybe even some sort of communication device E.T. used to finally phone home. Alien tech aside, radio signals are still our best chance of finding any traces of life beyond our own pale blue bubble. Creatures we don’t even know exist may be using them right not to try and communicate with us.

NASA had launched what was supposed to be a momentous SETI initiative in 1992, with the intent to build instruments that would make it possible for detect any strange cosmic signals that could possibly be coming from another species of intelligent beings.

NASA image of a galaxy

Anybody out there sending radio signals? Credit: NASA

This is why the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico was equipped with a hi-res microwave survey, only for Nevada Senator Richard Bryan to terminate the program a year later because he believed that it would be detrimental for the NASA budget. “SETI” became something that must not be named — until now.

“We instantly became the four-letter S-word that you couldn't say at headquarters anymore,” astronomer and SETI Institute director Jill Tarter, who feels that the new bill will be a seismic shift in the way we seek out aliens if it does get passed, told The Atlantic, “and that has stuck for quite a while."

Ironically, this bill emerged from Texas Senator Lamar Smith, who is notorious for denying that humans have been catalysts in climate change. The funding is also not guaranteed because this is only an authorization bill. Not being an appropriations bill means that the appropriators may provide less or even no funding to the SETI initiative, but if the federal government decides to prioritize the search for life, the impact could be astronomical. Tarter is beyond excited for such a phenomenon and hopes to see government agencies and commercial entities joining forces in the effort.

"Bring it on! But don't stop there," she said. "Earthlings everywhere are fascinated with this search and care about the answer. So, we should create an international endowment for searching for intelligent life beyond Earth.”

(via Space.com)