As of this week, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered over 3,000 new planet candidates, and has confirmed a total of 962 as actual planets. More exciting is the fact that many of these planets reside in their respective solar systems’ habitable zones: that sweet spot near its star where water is in its liquid form. Liquid water, as we know it, indicates the possibility of life. So how can we determine if intelligent beings exist on those planets?
A group of scientists has an idea: use Earth-based telescopes to listen in on alien planets and search for communications amongst the stars. As many of the Kepler planets reside in multi-planet systems, these scientists believe that messages could be coming and going back and forth from these planets and (hopefully) picked up as radio signals on Earth.
Using Kepler’s data, one scientist created a computer program that figured out when some of these planets would be in line with Earth, making us more likely to pick up signals from extraterrestrial communication. We’ve never been able to do this before because we only now have precise information to understand when this alignment happens.
One telescope has already signed on to this new Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) mission, donating 36 hours to the scientific team to search for such signals. Unfortunately, the telescope did not pick up any alien communications during that time. However, undeterred, the scientists hope to get more time with other telescopes to try again.
There’s also a second SETI project in the works. That plan is to study an area of space within 13 light years of Earth from our northern hemisphere. Several telescopes have already agreed to participate in that mission.
At this point, we believe that aliens are more than likely out there, but the hard part will be finding them. These two missions are a good start to making that happen.