Astronomers will sweep the whole sky for the first time for signs of extraterrestrial life, using 28 giant radio telescopes in an unprecedented hunt for alien civilizations.
The project is a collaboration between the privately funded Seti Institute and the Very Large Array Observatory in New Mexico, one of the most powerful radio observatories in the world. Gaining real-time access to all data collected by VLA is considered an important coup for scientists hunting extraterrestrial life forms and an indication that the field has become ‘mainstream’.
Normal astronomy operations will continue in the VLA, which was shown in the 1997 film Contact, but under the new scheme all data will be duplicated and fed via a special supercomputer that will search for beeps, squawks or other technology signatures at a distance.
“The VLA is being used for aerial research and we are going along a bit,” says Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Seti center. “This allows us to conduct a Seti study at the same time.
“Determining whether we are alone in the universe as a technologically capable life is one of the most compelling questions in science, and [our] Telescopes can play an important role in answering them, “said Tony Beasley, director of The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which performs the VLA.
The first phase of the project, installing new cables, was funded by John Giannandrea, a senior Apple director and administrator of the Seti Institute, and Carol Giannandrea.
The VLA project is one of a series of upcoming Seti initiatives that were outlined Friday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference.
Jill Tarter, emeritus researcher at the Seti Institute, gave updates about Panoseti, a proposed prototype development observatory designed to continuously view much of the sky. If financing is guaranteed, Panoseti consists of two geodesic domes covered with half-meter lenses, making it look like a giant pair of insect eyes. The ability to view a vast expanse of the sky at the same time would make it uniquely suitable for detecting transient signals, such as the flash of a distant powerful laser. “To catch the kind of things you really want to look at when the signal comes your way,” Tarter said before her speech.
The veteran Seti scientist said that the field had been given a boost in the last decade by the discovery that about a fifth of the star houses planets in the “habitable zone”.
“Now that there is perhaps more habitable real estate than we ever thought at the beginning … it seems to make this next question about intelligent life more realistic,” she said. “It’s not as far on the edge as it once was – it’s almost mainstream.”
Others hunt for less intelligent species of extraterrestrial life. Victoria Meadows, who runs NASA’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, spoke at AAAS during the same session and described the planned observations with the James Webb. Space Telescope, planned for next year.
Three planets the size of the earth in orbit around a cool, faint star named Trappist-1 in the Aquarius constellation are high on the charts. Computer models suggest that the Trappist-1 system is one of the most promising for finding planets with atmospheres and temperatures that could allow liquid water to surface.
“The James Webb telescope will be able to tell us if they have an atmosphere like the Earth or Venus,” said Meadows. “It gives us our first real chance to look for gases that are released by living on another planet. We are actually going to study the cousins of the earth. “
Siemion also announced the second installment of results from the $ 100 million (£ 76 million) breakthrough listening initiative: no alien broadcasts have been detected so far.
The latest survey, the most extensive radio emissions to date, included the first search in the “Earth transit zone”. The transit zone looked for 20 stars in positions where the hypothetical inhabitants of these solar systems could see the shadow of the earth flicker over the sun. Thanks to this detection method, astronomers were able to identify thousands of exoplanets and determine whether their circumstances might be habitable.
“This turns it around and says,” What if another civilization is watching our sun? “Siemion said.
If this is the case, it is either quietly watching or watching from some of the other 200 billion stars in the Milky Way.
As the latest technological advances bring scientists a step closer to answering the question of whether there is something or someone, problems about best practice still have to be solved in the event that an extraterrestrial civilization is discovered.
Stephen Hawking warned against any form of contact, which suggests that the outcome is not necessarily good for people. Siemion does not agree with that. “Personally, I think we should definitely do that, and I doubt we should,” he said. “Part of being human wants to reach the unknown and make contact.”
However, he is less decisive about what the message of the earth should be. “I don’t know … I’m absolutely zero time thinking about that,” he said. “I think I’d just say,” Hello. “