Astronomers Scanned 12 Planets for Alien Signals While They Were in Front of Their Stars

TOI 1338 b is a circumbinary planet orbiting its two stars. It was discovered by TESS. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), part of the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, is the world’s premiere single-dish radio telescope. Between its 100-meter dish (328-foot), unblocked aperture, and excellent surface accuracy, the GBT provides unprecedented sensitivity in the millimeter to meter wavelengths – very high to extremely high frequency (VHF to EHF). Since 2017, it also became one of the main instruments used by Breakthrough Listen and other institutes engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Recently, an international team of researchers from the SETI Institute, Breakthrough Listen, and multiple universities scanned twelve exoplanets for signs of technological activity (aka. “technosignatures”). Their observations were timed to coincide with the planets passing in front of their sun relative to the observer (i.e., making a transit). While the survey did not detect any definitive evidence of technosignatures, they did identify two radio signals of interest that warrant follow-up observation. This new technique could vastly expand the field of SETI and create all kinds of opportunities for future research.

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Gravitational Wave Observatories Could Search for Warp Drive Signatures

Artist's impression of a Dyson Sphere. The construction of such a massive engineering structure would create a technosignature that could be detected by humanity. Credit: SentientDevelopments.com/Eburacum45
Artist's impression of a Dyson Sphere. The construction of such a massive engineering structure would create a technosignature that could be detected by humanity. Credit: SentientDevelopments.com/Eburacum45

In 2016, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had made the first confirmed detection of gravitational waves (GWs). This discovery confirmed a prediction made a century before by Einstein and his Theory of General Relativity and opened the door to a whole new field of astrophysical research. By studying the waves caused by the merger of massive objects, scientists could probe the interior of neutron stars, detect dark matter, and discover new particles around supermassive black holes (SMBHs).

According to new research led by the Advanced Propulsion Laboratory at Applied Physics (APL-AP), GWs could also be used in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). As they state in their paper, LIGO and other observatories (like Virgo and KAGRA) have the potential to look for GWs created by Rapid And/or Massive Accelerating spacecraft (RAMAcraft). By combining the power of these and next-generation observatories, we could create a RAMAcraft Detection And Ranging (RAMADAR) system that could probe all the stars in the Milky Way (100 to 200 billion) for signs of warp-drive-like signatures.

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NASA Announces the Team who'll be Studying UFO Data. It's a Pretty Impressive List

UFO encounter video
Cockpit video shows an anomalous aerial encounter in 2015. Credit: U.S Navy Video

In June, NASA announced that it had commissioned an independent study team to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) from a scientific perspective. Last week, NASA announced the members of the independent team that will study observed events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or natural phenomena. These sixteen individuals, a collection of scientists and researchers from premier institutions across the U.S., will analyze all possible data sources that could help NASA and other agencies learn more about this phenomenon.

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Upcoming Missions Could Search for Ancient Alien Technology Within the Solar System

An artist’s overview of the mission concept for the Comet Interceptor spacecraft. Credit: ESA

Over sixty years ago, the first search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), known as Project Ozma, was conducted. This campaign was led by legendary astronomer Frank Drake, which relied on the 85-1 Tatel Telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia to listen to Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani for any signs of radio transmissions. Since then, the field of SETI has become more sophisticated thanks to more advanced radio telescopes, improved data analysis, and international collaboration. In the coming years, SETI will also benefit from advances in exoplanet studies and next-generation instruments and surveys.

In addition to examining exoplanets for signs of technological activity (aka. “technosignatures”), there are also those who recommend that we look for them here at home. Examples include the Galileo Project, which is dedicated to studying interstellar objects (ISOs) and unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). There’s also the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center, a research group dedicated to advancing SETI through the search for technosignatures. In a recent paper, they explain how future SETI efforts should consider looking for extraterrestrial technology in our Solar System.

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Which Missions and Observatories can Detect Technosignatures?

The search for technosignatures has always taken a back seat in the broad search for extraterrestrial life forms. Biosignatures, such as methane in an exoplanet’s atmosphere, have long been front and center. But while we are searching for signs of biology, signs of technology might be hiding in plain sight. According to a new report from the members of the TechnoClimes conference, humanity could potentially find signs of technology by simply using data that will already be collected for other purposes. To prove their point, they came up with a list of possible technosignatures and cross-referenced them with a list of observatories that could potentially find them. The result is a framework of how to best search for technosignatures and a plethora of references for those seeking them out.

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Next Generation Telescopes Could Search for Intelligent Civilizations Directly

An artist's illustration of the LUVOIR-A telescope concept. Image Credit: NASA

We’re still in the early days of searching for life elsewhere. The Perseverance rover is on its way to a paleo-delta on Mars to look for fossilized signs of ancient bacterial life. SETI’s been watching the sky with radio dishes, listening for signals from distant worlds. Our telescopes are beginning to scan the atmospheres of distant exoplanets for biosignatures.

Soon we’ll take another step forward in the search when new, powerful telescopes begin to search not just for life but for other civilizations.

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Does the Entire Planet Have a Mind of its Own?

In a self-described "thought experiment," University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank and colleagues David Grinspoon at the Planetary Science Institute and Sara Walker at Arizona State University use scientific theory and broader questions about how life alters a planet, to posit four stages to describe Earth's past and possible future. Image Credit: (University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

What is humanity? Do our minds set us apart from the rest of nature and from the rest of Earth? Or does Earth have a collective mind of its own, and we’re simply part of that mind? On the literal face of it, that last question might sound ridiculous.

But a new thought experiment explores it more deeply, and while there’s no firm conclusion about humanity and a planetary mind, just thinking about it invites minds to reconsider their relationship with nature.

Overcoming our challenges requires a better understanding of ourselves and nature, and the same is true for any other civilizations that make it past the Great Filter.

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James Webb Might be Able to Detect Other Civilizations by their Air Pollution

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launched last December, has been slowly powering up its instruments and unfurling its sunshield, and is now in the process of aligning its mirrors in preparation for operation. Within a few months, the most powerful space telescope ever built is going to set its sights on the stars. Astronomers are hoping that what JWST sees will change the way we understand our universe, just as the Hubble Space Telescope did decades before.

One tantalizing capability that JWST offers that Hubble could not is the opportunity to directly image planets orbiting distant stars, and maybe, just maybe, detect signs of life.

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If Aliens Are Out There, We’ll Meet Them in a Few Hundred Million Years

An artist's conception of how common exoplanets are throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Seventy years ago, Italian-American nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi asked his colleagues a question during a lunchtime conversation. If life is common in our Universe, why can’t we see any evidence of its activity out there (aka. “where is everybody?”) Seventy years later, this question has launched just as many proposed resolutions as to how extraterrestrial intelligence (ETIs) could be common, yet go unnoticed by our instruments.

Some possibilities that have been considered are that humanity might be alone in the Universe, early to the party, or is not in a position to notice any yet. But in a recent study, Robin Hanson (creator of the Great Filter) and an interdisciplinary team offer a new model for determining when the aliens will get here. According to their study, humanity is early to the Universe and will meet others in 200 million to 2 billion years from now.

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What are the Best Ways to Search for Technosignatures?

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has long roots in human history.  With the advent of modern technologies, scientists were finally able to start scanning the skies for any sign of life.  When the search first started back in the 1960s, it focused almost exclusively on trying to detect radio signals.  Over the decades, no irrefutable evidence of any artificial radio signals was ever found. Financial support started to drift away from the discipline, and where the money goes so do many scientists.

But more recently, the spike in interest in exoplanet research has breathed new life into the search for intelligent life, now commonly referred to as the search for “technosignatures”. In 2018, NASA sponsored a conference where scientists who were involved with the field came to discuss its current state.  That meeting was followed up by a meeting last year sponsored by the Blue Marble Institute, which NASA also helped to sponsor.  Now a working paper has come out from the group of SETI scientists that attended the conference. Numerous potential mission ideas to find technosignatures are described in the paper. It’s clear the search for extraterrestrial intelligence isn’t limited just to radio astronomy anymore.

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