Is there anyone out there? That’s a question that astronomers have asked for over 40 years, since we started searching the skies for signs of alien life. At the recent Toronto Science festival, though, astronomers spoke about using new technologies in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
In the 1960s, the search for intelligent alien life began by using a National Radio Astronomy Observatory telescope. This telescope looked for radio pulses in the sky within a certain emission range. The original experiment didn’t turn up anything, but it inspired astronomers for generations to come. Astronomers have done everything from searching the sky for radio signals from beyond Earth to looking for public volunteers to help in the quest for alien intelligence.
We are discovering new exoplanets every day. The Kepler Mission alone discovered nearly 500 planets. We even think that some of those planets may host life. However, we have no way of determining if that life is intelligent or not. But knowing that it may be out there serves as motivation for continuing the search.
Fortunately, we now have bigger and better technologies to assist with the search. For example, University of Toronto Astronomer Shelley Wright is building a near-infrared detector. This detector will send small laser pulses out into space, creating bright flashes that could attract the attention of any extraterrestrial beings that may be watching.
We also have better capabilities of sending messages out into space, especially with missions that go into the outer reaches of our own solar system. A new project is being organized to use part of the computer on the New Horizons spacecraft, which is already on its way to Pluto. If the project is successful, a crowdsourced message would be programmed into the computer and be put out there for any alien intelligence that might find it. Think of it as a message in a bottle, but in space.
Other technologies are sure to come into play with the search for alien intelligence. All we have to do is develop those, send our messages, search for messages, and wait. Let’s hope that the aliens we do find are not only intelligent, but also peaceful. Otherwise, we might have A War of The Worlds on our hands.