iOS app Android app

Seth Shostak
GET UPDATES FROM Seth Shostak
Seth is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, in Mountain View, California. He has an undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University, and a doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. For much of his career, Seth conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies, and has published approximately sixty papers in professional journals.

He has written several hundred popular magazine and Web articles on various topics in astronomy, technology, film and television. He lectures on astronomy and other subjects at Stanford and other venues in the Bay Area, and for the last six years, has been a Distinquished Speaker for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is also Chair of the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Study Group. Every week he hosts the SETI Institute’s science radio show, “Are We Alone?”

Seth has edited and contributed to a half dozen books. His most recent tome is Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (National Geographic).

Entries by Seth Shostak

Life on the Billionth Rock From the Sun

(7) Comments | Posted June 9, 2014 | 3:41 PM

I've always regarded asteroids as somewhat like dinosaurs: mildly interesting and faintly dangerous. But I'm now thinking that they might be a profitable real estate investment.

As any astronomer (including this one) will tell you, asteroids hold the answer to a perennial puzzle about the formation of planets. In particular,...

Read Post

What Astronomy Says About Religion

(134) Comments | Posted May 1, 2014 | 12:19 PM

It's a recurrent experience that never fails to perplex me: Random people will seek my advice on questions of religion. Rather than posing queries about how the cosmos works, they want me to enlighten them on why.

This sometimes occurs in the most unlikely of venues. A few years ago,...

Read Post

Kepler 186f: Is It Inhabited?

(35) Comments | Posted April 21, 2014 | 12:29 PM

It's so far away that even if you booked a trip on the speediest of our rockets, you'd have 100 million years to polish your Sudoku skills en route to Kepler 186f.

That's probably not going to happen. But what has happened is that a team of astronomers, after carefully...

Read Post

Dating Game Not Mating Game

(0) Comments | Posted March 2, 2014 | 1:03 PM

Jim Lange died this week, and a familiar voice is gone from the ether. He was primarily a radio guy, but my memories of Lange will always be of his most famous on-air presence: hosting the popular network TV show The Dating Game. Although it sounds oxymoronic, for years I...

Read Post

Astronomy's Alpha Male

(4) Comments | Posted February 20, 2014 | 10:58 AM

It will be the mother of all telescopes, and you can bet it will do for astronomy what genome sequencing is doing for biology.

The clumsy, if utilitarian, name of this mirrored monster is Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST. You can't use it yet, but a peak in the...

Read Post

Like Creation Science? Toss Your Smartphone!

(154) Comments | Posted February 5, 2014 | 5:00 PM

Bill Nye decided to be a fireman this week.

You know the bromide about firefighters, right? Unlike us, they run into burning buildings. Well, Nye took on creationist Ken Ham in a few hours of emotional debate this week about the merits of "creation science."

It's always a tough call...

Read Post

The End of the World: Science or Religion?

(63) Comments | Posted January 15, 2014 | 10:11 AM

Harold Camping died last month. In case you don't remember, Camping, the president of evangelical Family Radio, predicted that the world would end in 2011. Twice.

He made these prognostications on the basis of numerology, which sounds like it might be a sophomore-level math subject, but isn't. The data for...

Read Post

Is Alien Life Surfacing Nearby?

(17) Comments | Posted December 15, 2013 | 1:37 PM

Extraterrestrial life may be showing up in some obvious places. No, this is not about hairless aliens that have come to Earth in saucer-shaped craft, but less sophisticated life just next door.

A century ago, scientists believed there was only one obvious stomping ground for alien biology in our solar...

Read Post

When Will We Build the Starship Enterprise?

(38) Comments | Posted December 10, 2013 | 1:25 PM

A practical way to travel between the stars is a must-have for space opera, and a sine qua non for our frequently vaunted future as a galactic society. But are we ever really going to boldly go to worlds around other suns?

We'll have to, if we hope to occasionally...

Read Post

地球型惑星の数は、それこそ天文学的だ

(6) Comments | Posted November 22, 2013 | 3:20 AM

太陽に似た恒星約500億個うち約22%が、表面に液体の水を保持するのにちょうどよい軌道距離の惑星をもっていることが明らかになった。言い換えれば、そのような恒星の5つに1つは、いわゆる「アビタブル・ゾーン(生命の生存に適した宇宙の領域)」内に地球サイズの軌道周回惑星をもっていることになる。

Read Post

The Numbers Are Astronomical

(154) Comments | Posted November 4, 2013 | 2:25 PM

A press conference today laid bare some new results from NASA's Kepler space telescope. They're astounding.

It turns out that about 22 percent of all Sun-like stars boast a planet that's at the right orbital distance to sustain liquid water on its surface. In other words, one in five of...

Read Post

Martian Archaeology. Not.

(19) Comments | Posted October 8, 2013 | 11:15 AM

Well, it's a bit disappointing, but NASA's Curiosity rover has so far failed to confirm the presence of methane in the martian atmosphere. Other astronomers have claimed it's there, based on measurements made by orbiters and ground-based telescopes. A solid whiff of this smelly gas would be exciting, because it...

Read Post

Why Doesn't NASA Just Look for Life?

(358) Comments | Posted August 24, 2013 | 10:17 AM

The students were perplexed. They had just heard the latest updates on the Curiosity rover, a complex piece of space hardware that is slowly rolling its way up a layer cake of rock known as Mount Sharp. Its mission? To decipher Mars' wetter past.

"OK," said the students. "But...

Read Post

Contact With Aliens? Think Before You Call.

(81) Comments | Posted August 6, 2013 | 1:30 PM

My e-mail is frequently larded with interesting nuggets, such as this revelation:

"The aliens are in touch. Whenever I use my computer, they underline certain strange words on the screen ... It's a message."

Possibly. Then again, perhaps the correspondent should turn off the spell-check on his word processor....

Read Post

How Ordinary Are We?

(53) Comments | Posted May 24, 2013 | 12:53 PM

It's the default premise in science: If you observe something in nature only once, you assume that what you've seen is typical. That's because "typical" is just another way of saying "most probable."

Consequently, ever since Copernicus redrew the blueprint of the cosmos nearly five centuries ago, we've assumed that...

Read Post

Klingon Worlds

(205) Comments | Posted April 26, 2013 | 12:21 PM

The latest planets turned up by NASA's Kepler telescope are -- like the kids in Lake Wobegon -- gratifyingly above average.

These new worlds offer both promise and insights, because they've got traits that are both appealing and mildly disconcerting.

In the four years since its launch, Kepler has chalked...

Read Post

Why Bother Searching for ET?

(181) Comments | Posted April 1, 2013 | 1:18 PM

It's a disturbing question, and one that I seem to get more frequently than before.

"Why are you looking for evidence of extraterrestrials? What's the point?"

While I have always thought that the motivation for looking for E.T. was both self-evident and patently worthy, it's possible that I'm a victim...

Read Post

The Darkest Worlds

(59) Comments | Posted March 15, 2013 | 2:21 PM

Imagine a world where the Sun doesn't shine -- ever. A place where there are nights but no days, and where the term "year" has no meaning. On such an unlit world, you'll never see anything in the sky brighter than the puny sparkle of the stars.

Welcome to orphan...

Read Post

Celestial Sound Effects

(12) Comments | Posted February 22, 2013 | 7:00 AM

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Remember the tag line for the 1979 sci-fi flick Alien? It was boldly emblazoned on the film's advertising posters, and helpfully informed the public that "in...

Read Post

The Ultimate Television

(47) Comments | Posted February 1, 2013 | 11:52 AM

After more than sixty years, televisions are as familiar as old boots. Once typecast as the indispensable altarpiece of a well-appointed living room, TVs have infected every human environment. The average American household has more television sets than people.

Today, if you've got the wall space and the...

Read Post