Scientists ramp up efforts in the search for alien life

Scientists ramp up efforts in the search for alien life

Scientists are ramping up their efforts in the search for signs of alien life.

Experts at the SETI Institute, an organisation dedicated to tracking extraterrestrial intelligence, are developing state-of-the-art techniques to detect signatures from space that indicate the possibility of extraterrestrial existence.

These so-called “technosignatures” can range from the chemical composition of a planet’s atmosphere, to laser emissions, to structures orbiting other stars, among others, they said.

Dr Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) telescope based in Virginia, US, said: “Determining whether we are alone in the universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science.”

SETI scientists plan to develop a system that will “piggyback” on the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope based in Mexico and provide data to their technosignature search system.

Dr Beasley added: “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.”

Life forms, whether intelligent or not, can produce detectable indicators such as large amounts of oxygen, smaller amounts of methane, and a variety of other chemicals, the experts said.

So in addition, scientists are also developing computer models to simulate extraterrestrial environments that can help support future searches for habitable planets and life beyond the solar system.

Victoria Meadows, principal investigator for Nasa’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, which studies to detect exoplanetary habitability, said: “Upcoming telescopes in space and on the ground will have the capability to observe the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby cool stars, so it’s important to understand how best to recognise signs of habitability and life on these planets.

“These computer models will help us determine whether an observed planet is more or less likely to support life.”

Meanwhile, SETI’s Breakthrough Listen Initiative, which launched in 2015 to “listen” for signals of alien life, has released nearly two petabytes of data from the most comprehensive survey yet of radio emissions from the plane of the Milky Way galaxy and the region around its central black hole.

The organisation is now inviting the public to search the data, gathered from various telescopes around the world, and look for signals from intelligent civilisations.

Yuri Milner, an entrepreneur and founder of the Breakthrough initiative, said: “For the whole of human history, we had a limited amount of data to search for life beyond Earth.

“So, all we could do was speculate.

“Now, as we are getting a lot of data, we can do real science and, with making this data available to general public, so can anyone who wants to know the answer to this deep question.”

The initiatives and strategies in expanding the search for extraterrestrial life were presented at the the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle.

More in this Section

Flooded non-league football side in UK make plea for big clubs’ help with repair billsFlooded non-league football side in UK make plea for big clubs’ help with repair bills

Firm wants to recover ‘voice of Titanic’ telegraph machine from ship’s wreckageFirm wants to recover ‘voice of Titanic’ telegraph machine from ship’s wreckage

China’s leaders sound cautious note over coronavirus fightChina’s leaders sound cautious note over coronavirus fight

Germany to increase police presence after racist shootingGermany to increase police presence after racist shooting


Lifestyle

Not all trends are created equal. Some are exciting – like first-date butterflies; others are comforting – like ice-cream and Golden Girls reruns.Trend of the Week: Floral free for all

Veterinary medicine is a demanding career, leading to mental health problems for some vets.Elephant in the clinic: Helpline offers support to vets with mental health difficulties

Bonnie Ryan couldn’t be happier.On a roll: Why Bonnie Ryan couldn't be happier

From Ireland to America and fashion to homeswares, designer Helen James is developing interiors products for the high street with an emphasis on sustainability, beauty and function, writes Carol O’CallaghanConsider this: Meet Helen James

More From The Irish Examiner