The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been working to find intelligent life on an exoplanet somewhere in the universe. In a talk during the 2014 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts symposium at Stanford University, Seth Shostak claimed that such a discovery is expected to be made by 2040. It’s a claim that has been made by SETI in the past, and while the numbers appear to make sense for this to be true, the reality is that if no intelligent life exists outside of planet earth then it doesn’t matter how many potential planets exist in the universe.

The Kepler Space telescope has been showcasing the many potential life sustaining planets in the universe for years now. With the number of star systems being analyzed going up exponentially the input of data will raise to the million system mark in the next 25 years. Shostak is confident that such a diverse study of exoplanets will finally produce results.
"The bottom line is, like one in five stars has at least one planet where life might spring up. That's a fantastically large percentage. That means in our galaxy, there's on the order of tens of billions of Earth-like worlds."

The success of SETI depends upon funding, however, an issue that has plagued the initiative for years. The system was shut down for months at one point in April 2011 before new funding could be found later that same year. While many astronomers are hopeful that SETI’s efforts will prove fruitful, it is an exercise in hope. Still, the search for intelligent life has given impetus to studying potential life sustaining planets in the universe. Something that is of great interest to humans. The essential question is always, if it happened here, why not elsewhere? Why not a million elsewheres?

It’s the closest astronomers get to fantasy, and has fueled many great fictional stories like Carl Sagan’s Contact. Even scientists can be dreamers. Shostak also says that the search includes more than just technologically advanced species. Self aware life may not be at our level out there, but sentient beings could exist. The claim that we’ll find intelligent life by 2040 doesn’t necessarily mean another species like humans, it could end up being a colony of ant like creatures. The possibility is exciting in any case, and while we should remain cautious with our optimism, the potential to find life out there has never been greater.

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