Einstein’s Thoughts on Alien Life and SETI

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When the Digital Einstein Papers website opened last month, a veritable treasure trove of writings by the 20th century’s greatest scientist became open to the public for the very first time.

Among the interesting snippets of information uncovered so far, are the great man’s thoughts on the existence of alien life:

“There is every reason to believe that Mars and other planets are inhabited. Why should the earth be the only planet supporting human life? It is not singular in any other respect.”

While he was wrong about Mars, the rest of the observation seems obvious to us today, but at the time he made it, we had barely even discovered that the Milky Way was just one of billions of similar galaxies in the Universe, and it would be another 70 years before we detected planets outside our own solar system.

He also had something to say about the possibility of communicating with aliens:

“But if intelligent creatures do exist, as we may assume they do elsewhere in the universe, I should not expect them to try to communicate with the Earth by wireless [radio]. Light rays, the direction of which can be controlled much more easily, would more probably be the first method attempted.”

Whether or not he is correct is still open to question. There is good reason to believe that aliens seeking to make contact across deep space would use radio waves, since at the right frequency they can cut through the clutter of cosmic dust and gases in the way, but it is interesting to note that there has recently been renewed interest in optical SETI and the possibility that an alien civilization might send out rapid pulses of light as their preferred means of communication.

Time will tell which method is correct–and least that’s the hope.

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