from the Betteridge-says-No dept.
A little over 80 years ago, humanity first began broadcasting radio and television signals with enough power that they should leave Earth's atmosphere and progress deep into interstellar space. If someone living in a distant star system were keeping a vigilant eye out for these signals, they would not only be able to pick them up, but immediately identify them as created by an intelligent species. In 1960, Frank Drake first proposed searching for such signals from other star systems by using large radio dishes, giving rise to SETI: the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Yet over the past half-century, we've developed far more efficient ways to communicate across the globe than with broadcast radio and TV signals. Does searching for aliens in the electromagnetic spectrum even make sense anymore ?
[...] After all, if someone from a culture that was versed only in smoke signals and drum beats found themselves deep inside the heart of a forest, they might conclude that there was no intelligent life around. Yet if you gave them a cellphone, there's a good chance they could get reception from right where they stood! Our conclusions may be as biased as the methods we apply.
[...] But if we weren't looking for electromagnetic signals, what would we look at? Indeed, everything in the known Universe is limited by the speed of light, and any signal created on another world would necessitate that we be able to observe it. These signals — in terms of what could reach us — fall into four categories:
Electromagnetic signals, which include any form of light of any wavelength that would indicate the presence of intelligent life.
Gravitational wave signals, which, if there is one unique to intelligent life, would be detectable with sensitive enough equipment anywhere in the Universe.
Neutrino signals, which — although incredibly low in flux at great distances — would have an unmistakeable signature dependent on the reaction that created them.
And finally, actual, macrobiotic space probes, either robotic, computerized, free-floating or inhabited, which made its way towards Earth.
How remarkable that our science-fiction imaginations focus almost exclusively on the fourth possibility, which is by far the least likely !
Also covered by: Three Alternate Ways Scientists Should Hunt For Aliens
Emerging technologies and new strategies are opening a revitalized era in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). New discovery capabilities, along with the rapidly-expanding number of known planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, are spurring innovative approaches by both government and private organizations, according to a panel of experts speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, Washington.
New approaches will not only expand upon but also go beyond the traditional SETI technique of searching for intelligently-generated radio signals, first pioneered by Frank Drake's Project Ozma in 1960. Scientists now are designing state-of-the-art techniques to detect a variety of signatures that can indicate the possibility of extraterrestrial technologies. Such "technosignatures" can range from the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere, to laser emissions, to structures orbiting other stars, among others.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the privately-funded SETI Institute announced an agreement to collaborate on new systems to add SETI capabilities to radio telescopes operated by NRAO. The first project will develop a system to piggyback on the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) that will provide data to a state-of-the-art technosignature search system.
"As the VLA conducts its usual scientific observations, this new system will allow for an additional and important use for the data we're already collecting," said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. "Determining whether we are alone in the Universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science, and NRAO telescopes can play a major role in answering it," Beasley continued.
"The SETI Institute will develop and install an interface on the VLA permitting unprecedented access to the rich data stream continuously produced by the telescope as it scans the sky," said Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute and Principal Investigator for the Breakthrough Listen Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. "This interface will allow us to conduct a powerful, wide-area SETI survey that will be vastly more complete than any previous such search," he added.