A few days ago I learned that the SETI Allen Telescope Array had been placed into hibernation after vital funding had run out. This has come as a devastating blow to SETI, right on the eve of a plan to scan the planets identified by the Kepler space telescope and listen out for signs of life.

Apparently the ATA needs a mere $5 million to remain fucntioning for two years. Writing this, I do find it unbelievable that people with a disgusting amount of wealth cannot come forward with the cash to keep the array running for twenty years, let alone two. There must be a billionnaire out there who can rescue ATA? Even if only the $5 million needed to continue operating for two years is donated.

The journey into the unknown is what excites us, as a civilisation. Although we have languished the last twenty or thirty years in our efforts into space (we last went to the moon in 1972) that pioneer spirit is still there, and it is that spirit that is the driving force of SETI’s search of the stars.

Click HERE to learn about SETI.

Whilst it is very sad news that SETI has hit such a brick wall, it should be noted however that it still has other SETI sites across the world, including its Aracebo observatory – made famous by the film Contact.

It’s not an exageration to say that finding evidence of alien life, a so-called smoking gun, if you will, would be the most important discovery of man kind’s history. Such a discovery would surely shape the future of humanity.

In a recent interview with Lisa Grossman (twitter: @astrolisa) for Wired.com/science, SETI research director Jill Tarter had the following to say, when asked ‘What do you think would happen if we discovered a signal today’:

“It would change everything overnight. SETI wouldn’t have any funding problems anymore. People would be eager to see if there was information in the signal. But even if it was only a cosmic dial tone, with no obviously or instantaneously available information, we’d still learn some very fundamental facts.

We’ll learn that technologies can survive a long time. Unless technological civilizations have long lifetimes, we’re never going to succeed in detecting a signal. We have to be close enough in three-dimensional space, and we also have to overlap in time. In the 10-billion-year history of our galaxy, if civilizations only last for 100 years, there’s not going to be any overlap. If we get a signal, it means that technologies, on average, can last a long time.

I’m not saying we’re going to get extraterrestrial salvation, by any means. But I am saying we’ll learn that it’s possible to survive our technological adolescence. That’s where we’re stuck right now, and there are a lot of indications that we won’t make it out of this. A signal would make all the difference, would show that it’s possible. That somebody else did it.”

I think that Jill Tarter hits the nail on the head, when she says that finding a signal would have such a radical impact on modern society. It would shape our future. Possibly it would ensure that we have a vested interest in our future presence in the cosmos, of leaving our stamp. If we detect another civilisation, then surely that knowledge will put a new spin on the age-old questions of Who Are We? Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going?
The latter is surely the most important question to ask. Whilst you need to have understanding of where you are now, and how you got here, the most important question to ask is What Is In Store Tomorrow?

Perhaps, if we can continue to search the heavens for the answers to the fundamental questions of our existence, we will know what tomorrow will bring.

An ‘alien’ civilisation may last hundreds of thousands of years, stretching to multiple worlds or star systems. Might we one day achieve the same thing? Humanity, surely, is not doomed to die a quiet death one day on Earth.

The key to our endurance lies in the clues left by others, on other worlds. Only there will we find the answers to the really important mysteries that determine and define man kind.

As Tarter says, there are 500 million possible habitable worlds… is it inconcievable that one of those worlds might have something to say?

And what they have to tell us could be game changing.

(I mentioned an article on wired.com/science by @astrolisa – both wired and lisa are well worth a follow on twitter)