New SAT Reading Practice Test 93: Searching the Skies

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Searching the Skies

In 1950, Enrico Fermi posited the question,
"Where is everybody?" when considering
the apparent contradiction between high
estimates of the likelihood of the existence
05of extraterrestrial life and mankind's lack of
contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations.
Later referred to as the Fermi Paradox,
his provocative query was founded on the
assumption that since the Sun is quite typical,
10other Earth-like planets surely exist and
have intelligent life, and by now, should have
visited or contacted Earth. Extraterrestrial
intelligence, or ETI, refers to hypothetical
intelligent civilizations that are assumed to
15exist based on the existence of human intelligence
and the vast size of the universe. While
popular and scientific opinion on ETI varies
greatly—from certainty to skepticism to
downright incredulity—the search for alien
20intelligence is extensive and substantive.
Whether you anticipate the stringy worm
guys with serious fire power in Men In Black;
the eternally wise Jedi Master, Yoda; Stan
Winston's nightmarish predators; or Steven
25Spielberg's sweet-loving E.T.; the search for
intelligent life outside Earth is on. SETI, or
"the search for extraterrestrial intelligence,"
is the collective name for activities undertaken
to seek intelligent extraterrestrial
30life, and most recently involves constant
monitoring of electromagnetic radiation
with radio telescopes in hopes of detecting
non-natural radio emissions or other signs
of transmissions from civilizations on other
35worlds. In March 2014, UC Berkeley began
an all-sky survey using the Arecibo radio
Although we have been listening for messages
since the 1960s, there have also been
40recent efforts to communicate with and
purposely send out our own messages. Active
SETI is the attempt to send messages to intelligent
extraterrestrial life via radio signals.
CETI, on the other hand, is any number of
45efforts to communicate with ETI that focuses
on composing and deciphering messages
that, theoretically, could be understood by
another technological civilization. And the
pursuit of ETI contact is no longer limited to
50the few and far between. SETILive, launched
in February 2012, uses data from the Allen
Telescope Array to allow the public to search
radio signals themselves.
Many astronomers and physicists attribute
55the renewed efforts to establish contact
with alien civilizations to the present-day
escalation in the discovery of exoplanets, or
planets that orbit a star other than our Sun.
According to NASA's data, as of June 2015,
60there have been 1,838 confirmed exoplanets,
where, just 20 years ago, it seemed that our
solar system was destined to be the extent of
our planetary discovery. A significant part of
that escalation can be attributed to NASA's
65Kepler Mission, an unmanned space observatory
craft launched in 2009 to find Earth sized
and smaller planets orbiting other stars.
More than 800 systems like our own solar
system with stars and orbiting planets have
70been identified.
So why is it, with a rejuvenated effort to
find evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence,
that Fermi's question is still so pertinent?
Despite billions of dollars and years of
75research, SETI has nothing substantial to
show for itself. In fact, the closest thing to
ETI contact is the Wow! Signal: a strong
narrowband radio signal detected in 1977
by Jerry R. Ehman of Ohio State University's
80Big Ear radio telescope project. Ehman was
able to successfully observe the signal for a
72-second window, circling its non-natural
waves and writing "Wow!" next to it—his
enthusiasm led to its name, but not to any
85significant breakthrough. Since 1977, efforts
to relocate the signal have failed again and
The theoretical explanations for Fermi's
paradox differ greatly. Some simply believe
90that few, if any, other civilizations exist. The
Rare Earth Hypothesis suggests that Earth
is unique, and so, therefore, is intelligent
life. Others theorize that intelligent life has
a tendency of destroying itself quickly; they
95hypothesize that self-annihilation occurs
before contact can be made. On the other
hand, many postulate that ETI's do exist, but
we see no evidence for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps we are too far apart in space or time.
100Perhaps humans, a relatively new species,
haven't searched long enough. Or maybe we
aren't listening properly. What if our distant
neighbors are using different frequencies?
Regardless of how certain or uncertain
105you are that extraterrestrial intelligent life
exists, the venture to solve Fermi's Paradox is
prevailing, and many believe the stakes are
high. Some argue that the enormous expense
involved in such projects is only surpassed
110by the futility of seeking aliens when we have
had decades without success; but, others
counter that the discovery of 1,838 exoplanets
is hardly unsuccessful.

NASA Space Program Budget

1. What is the purpose of this passage?

  • A. To advocate for a particular course of technological action
  • B. To survey various attempts to resolve a scientific dilemma
  • C. To detail the established consensus on an interesting problem
  • D. To consider alternative approaches to a social issue

2. According to the passage, the general scientific attitude toward the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence is best described as

  • A. deeply passionate and mostly certain.
  • B. quite interested but currently unsettled.
  • C. somewhat pessimistic and rather fearful.
  • D. fundamentally skeptical but always dogmatic.

3. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 1-7 ("In 1950 . . . civilizations")
  • B. Lines 16-20 ("While . . . substantive")
  • C. Lines 21-26 ("Whether . . . on")
  • D. Lines 38-41 ("Although . . . messages")

4. Which of the following is the best paraphrase of the Fermi Paradox (line 7)?

  • A. It seems reasonable that there should be extraterrestrial intelligence, so why haven't we found it?
  • B. It is contradictory that there is both concrete evidence in favor of alien life and direct evidence against their existence.
  • C. It is clear that aliens have made contact, so why won't the majority of humanity accept this obvious truth?
  • D. The universe is so old and large that there should be extraterrestrial intelligence; why won't scientists make an effort to locate it?

5. As used in line 19, the word "incredulity" most closely means

  • A. curiosity.
  • B. anticipation.
  • C. wisdom.
  • D. disbelief.

6. The example in lines 72-83 primarily serves to demonstrate that

  • A. there is decisive evidence in favor of alien life.
  • B. the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been virtually fruitless.
  • C. scientists are redoubling their efforts to build on Ehman's discovery.
  • D. astronomers are notable for the enthusiasm with which they conduct their observations.

7. The purpose of lines 99-103 ("Perhaps we . . . frequencies") is to

  • A. explain why the author is quite pessimistic about the possibility of finding ETI.
  • B. offer suggestions that have not likely been considered by scientists.
  • C. give a recommended course of action to solve a scientific problem.
  • D. elaborate on possible reasons why we have not found evidence of ETI.

8. As used in line 106, the word "venture" most closely means

  • A. endeavor.
  • B. risk.
  • C. business.
  • D. speculation.

9. Based on the trends in the graph and the information in the passage, which of these best represents a logical next step in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

  • A. A manned space station that will monitor radio waves
  • B. An analysis of previous extraterrestrial communications
  • C. An exploratory mission to an Earth-like exoplanet
  • D. A space shuttle delivery of an advanced outer-space telescope

10. According to the graph, between the years 2008-2015, the growth in which of these budget components most closely mirrored the growth of NASA's entire budget?

  • A. Exploration Missions
  • B. Robotic Technology
  • C. Space shuttles/Stations
  • D. Aeronautics

11. Suppose that a scientist wants evidence that would support NASA's funding decisions with respect to space stations and space shuttles as outlined in the graph. Which option gives the best evidence from the passage?

  • A. Lines 38-41 ("Although . . . messages")
  • B. Lines 50-53 ("SETILive . . . themselves")
  • C. Lines 63-70 ("A significant . . . identified")
  • D. Lines 76-80 ("In fact . . . project")