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In 1960 a young astronomer named Frank Drake trained a radio dish in Green Bank, W.Va., on two nearby stars and listened, for weeks, to the noise of their radio emanations. He was engaged in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. Fifty years later, SETI scientists following in Drake’s footsteps can do in seconds what took Drake 200 hours, thanks to continual boosts in instrumental and computing power. At this rate, Drake and his SETI Institute colleague Seth Shostak estimate that in 20 or 30 years scientists will have scanned enough stars to have a decent chance of detecting an alien signal—if intelligent aliens are indeed out there.
What will the next 50 years bring? Journalist Tim Folger tackles this question in the January 2011 issue of Scientific American in his article, "Contact: The Day After." Folger spoke with Drake and other leading experts in the field, who share their hunches about how much hay researchers might have to sift through before they find their proverbial needle, their predictions for what would happen if a signal were found, and their views as to whether we should be actively advertising our presence to any extraterrestrial neighbors.
But what do you think? Weigh in on the issues raised by Folger's article in our poll below. Click here to see the results.