“I’m a big fan of looking at red dwarf stars,” says Shostak. These stars are smaller than our Sun but much longer lived. “If you look at red dwarf star systems where the planets are going to be older, there might be more chances of them evolving something clever.”
But what if alien life was more dim green slime than brainy green men? Dolphins are pretty clever but they’ve not developed radio telescopes. Could the odds of a species evolving to develop electronics, nuclear weapons and America’s Next Top Model be so infinitesimally tiny as to be almost impossible? Shostak argues that as evolution has selected for intelligence on Earth – giving us an evolutionary advantage over our competitors – then it’s fair to suppose that intelligence might be widespread in the universe.
People certainly want to believe. Polls suggest that the majority of Americans think ET exists. (although, as one in three people in the US also believe aliens are already here walking among us, that may tell you more about the people who were polled rather than anything about the odds of alien life) With results from Kepler we should, in the next few years, get a better sense of whether we’re likely to be alone.
Until then, keep watching the skies.