I doubt there are alien spacecraft in the outer Solar system

You might have seen a fairly overblown article in the Daily Express about some things I said at the British Science Festival in Bradford (Thanks to @BritishSciFest for tweeting the above pic).  This article is probably one I would have addressed at Research the Headlines, but I thought I would put it here on my personal blog so things were clear.

The article seems to imply I’m convinced that there are alien spacecraft lurking in the Outer Solar System.  I’m not – in my opinion, the odds on that are extremely small.  However, we still need to map out the Kuiper belt and the other asteroid regions to rule it out rigorously using the scientific method.

This in fact was the thrust of my argument.  I’m of the opinion that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is likely to fail, but the process of failing will tell us something important about the human condition, and give hints at the ultimate fate of our civilisation.  What’s more, we’re already getting data from other astronomical surveys which would help, as I’ve blogged about before.

Amusingly, the Express article states:

There are some astronomers who are convinced there is no other intelligent life within a close enough distance that will ever allow us to make contact

I would include myself in the above “some astronomers”! The football pitch description isn’t quite right either.  The blue part in the penalty box is a crude representation of how many stars the $100m Breakthrough Listen programme will eventually look at, using a small range of radio and optical frequencies.  The little orange box in the top left corner post is an approximate estimate of the number of stars we’ve looked at previously.

The Express article cherry-picked some images of my slides to back up their bombastic statements – you can see the whole lot here.  Note my subtitle is “A Pessimist’s Plea for SETI”.  Also note that I was never approached for comments directly, despite giving out an email and Twitter handle.  Finally, as was pointed out by a colleague:

It’s a shame that these mistakes were made – other aspects of the article are quite reasonable.  I guess it would help matters if I blogged here more often, and I will try to do that (look out for a piece on our latest ideas about searching for dead civilisations).

In the meantime, a pinch of salt is always a good idea…


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