Astrophysicist and astronomer Seth Shostak made a daring bet in his 2012 TED Talk: We’ll find extraterrestrial life within 24 years or he’ll buy you a cup of coffee. This isn’t just wishful thinking — technological advances over the past few decades have amplified the scope of space exploration monumentally, allowing us to search the stars in ways we never have before. We spoke to Seth about his work at the SETI Institute, our cultural fascination with aliens and why he thinks we’re closer than ever to finally finding ET.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
What have you been working on lately?
I do a lot of writing, a lot of talking and, of course, the science and speculation: What would be the best strategy to find ET?
We’ve been looking at a list of about 20,000 so-called red dwarf stars. Red dwarves are just stars that are smaller than the sun, and there are a lot of them. Just like there are a lot more small animals than big ones, there are a lot more small stars than big ones. The other thing is that they take a long time to burn through their nuclear fuel, so they live for billions and billions of years, which means that on average they’re older than stars like the sun.