SETI researcher Seth Shostak bets that we will find extraterrestrial life in the next twenty-four years, or he’ll buy you a cup of coffee. He explains why new technologies and the laws of probability make the breakthrough so likely — and predicts how the discovery of civilizations far more advanced than ours might affect us here on Earth.



  • Do you know how many galaxies exist in the universe?





  • incredulous – (of a person or their manner) unwilling or unable to believe something
  • dispassionate – not influenced by strong emotion, and so able to be rational and impartial
  • privilege – a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group
  • hominid – a primate of a family ( Hominidae ) which includes humans and their fossil ancestors and also (in recent schemes) at least some of the great apes
  • pundit – an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called upon to give their opinions to the public
  • real estate – property consisting of land or buildings
  • conceivable – capable of being imagined or grasped mentally
  • frivolous – not having any serious purpose or value


Think about it

Answer the questions below. Pause at times indicated in brackets.

  • What idea does Seth say was a very romantic one? (2:23)
  • What changes have been taking place in SETI since the 1960s? (4:44)
  • How many galaxies are there in the universe? (5:35)
  • What is the bottom line of all the advancements Seth Shostak is talking about? (7:33)
  • What might be the possible consequences of finding an extraterrestrial civilization for humans? (10:39)
  • What does Seth say about SETI? (14:26)
  • What does Seth say about his job?


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the correct forms of the words in CAPITAL LETTERS.

Is E.T. out there? Well, I work at the SETI Institute. That’s almost my name. SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. In other words, I look for aliens, and when I tell people that at a cocktail party, they usually look at me with a mildly ________ CREDIBLE look on their face. I try to keep my own face somewhat ________ PASSION.

Now, a lot of people think that this is kind of ________IDEAL , ridiculous, maybe even hopeless, but I just want to talk to you a little bit about why I think that the job I have is actually a privilege, okay, and give you a little bit of the ________MOTIVATE for my getting into this line of work, if that’s what you call it. This thing — whoops, can we go back? Hello, come in, Earth. There we go. All right.

This is the Owens Valley Radio Observatory behind the Sierra Nevadas, and in 1968, I was working there collecting data for my thesis. Now, it’s kinda lonely, it’s kinda ________TEDIUM, just collecting data, so I would amuse myself by taking photos at night of the telescopes or even of myself, because, you know, at night, I would be the only hominid within about 30 miles. So here are pictures of myself. The ________OBSERVE had just acquired a new book, written by a Russian cosmologist by the name of Joseph Shklovsky, and then expanded and translated and edited by a little-known Cornell ________ ASTRONOMY by the name of Carl Sagan.


Fill in the blank spaces with the missing words. Use ONE word per blank space.

So this means that ________ the course of the next two dozen years, we’ll be able to look at a million star systems, a million star systems, looking for signals that would prove somebody’s ________ there. Well, a million star systems, is that interesting? I mean, how many of those star systems ________ planets? And the facts are, we didn’t know the answer to that even ________ recently as 15 years ago, and ________ fact, we really didn’t know it even as recently as six months ________. But now we do. Recent results suggest that virtually every star has planets, and more _______ one. They’re like, you know, kittens. You get a litter. You don’t get one kitten. You get a bunch. So in fact, this is a pretty accurate estimate ________ the number of planets in our galaxy, just in our galaxy, ________ the way, and I remind the non-astronomy majors among you that our galaxy is only one of 100 billion that we can see ________ our telescopes.


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