Is anybody out there?
What is SETI?
SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Overall, SETI is trying to find intelligent life forms, or civilizations, in other places in our universe. With SETI, we're not sending messages; we're looking for them from outer space.
How does SETI work?
SETI is a tool we use to search for intelligence on other planets/moons. Most SETI organizations search for radio signals. Radio signals can carry messages, just like they carry sound into your radio. Radio signals that carry messages have special patterns. SETI scientists look for these special patterns in radio signals. Giant telescopes also look for information from space. A smaller, but growing number of organizations search for light signals.
Who is doing SETI?
SETI projects are starting up all over the world, both by professional astronomers and amateurs. Two organizations have taken the lead in sponsoring SETI projects: the SETI Institute and the Planetary Society. The SETI Institute's main project is called Project Phoenix. The Planetary Society supports eight different projects.
Why do we conduct SETI?
If we were to find human-like civilization on another planet or moon, it would be one of the most important discoveries we could ever make. It would permanently change the way we live. Even knowing that we aren't alone in this universe would transform our ideas about life. For example, humans are at the top of the food chain here on earth. That could change if we found intelligent human-like creatures somewhere else. If we actually did manage to communicate with another civilization, it would most likely be to our benefit. Communicating with advanced civilizations could help us solve many of our largest problems. They may have cures for sicknesses or tools to stop wars from coming. They may also be able to stop poverty and more. Many scientists believe we could learn from their experience.
What do we look for?
Most scientists believe that radio signals are the easiest and most visible way to communicate. But even that is difficult, because radio waves travel at the speed of light. A smaller, but growing number of organizations, search for light signals.
Is there life in other worlds?
As of yet, we have no proof of "aliens" living on other planets. No radio signals or light signals have been detected yet. But we have found some evidence that there may be a larger chance of life on moons. We think that Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa may have had life on it.
How can we understand messages from other worlds if we don't share the same language?
Even though humans on earth and "aliens" on other planets/moons would not speak the same language, there are ways we can communicate with other intelligent life forms. Math, physics, chemistry, and astronomy laws will provide a common "language" known throughout the universe. We have also come to know that we can communicate with television-like pictures and others will understand. All they need are eyes to see what we mean.
Why are we doing SETI if UFOs have already been seen?
Even though UFOs have been seen for decades, there is no convincing proof that there are other life forms. In 1947, in a place called Roswell, New Mexico, some people believe that a UFO crashed. Most people now believe that it was just a weather balloon that crashed. So there is no solid proof of any UFOs, but we still wonder, do they exist?
How can I help with SETI?
Even though most of us aren't scientists, even regular people at home can help with SETI. If your computer at home has at least 32 megabytes of RAM (the amount of your computer's memory), you can help sort through radio waves. Telescopes pick up millions of radio waves every second. There is a SETI program that lets your computer help sort through radio waves when your computer is not busy doing something for you. You can download the program which is called SETI@home. Just think, your computer could be the one that finally finds the evidence that there's life on other planets!
"Search For Aliens." Scholastic SuperScience; Mar2000, Vol. 11 Issue 6, p3. Item 3334404. February 2005.
"Frequently Asked Questions About the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." The Planetary Society. February 2005. <http://www.planetary.org/html/UPDATES/seti/SETIFAQS.html>.
Copyrighted images of girl with telescope, SETI, and UFO from "Microsoft Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?lc=en-us&cag=1> (October-March, 2004-2005). Clip art only available to licensed users for non-commercial purposes.