For years, scientists have been listening for faint whispers of E.T. phoning anyone in electronic earshot. Now, some researchers are hearing sounds almost as exciting - the staccato of hammers, the crackle of arc welders, and the rumble of construction equipment - that signal the building of huge new telescopes to help answer an old question: Are we alone in the galaxy?
The answer to that question looms closer, thanks to boosts in funding, facilities, astronomical discoveries, and advances in technology. Researchers say within a few years they'll be able to conduct far more exhaustive searches for civilizations beyond our solar system.
The field "is in a stage of explosive growth," says Kent Cullers, director of research and development at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. "I'm not only excited, I'm ebullient."
A decade ago, the idea of searching for intelligent life drew more sneers than cheers in some circles. Congress was skeptical. NASA ended its small-scale program, leaving the search to private efforts. Now, interest is building again.
July 8, 2004
In Hunt for E.T., A Giant Leap
Peter N. Spotts argues that better technology and robust funding is the required fuel to help in the search for intelligent life beyond Earth.