SETI searches have the potential to detect whether the neighboring M31 Andromeda Galaxy is a locale of advanced technology and civilizations.
Credit: Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Detecting other starfolk out there isn’t easy. But new research is focused on far out reflecting solar panels, and evidence of extraterrestrial industrial activity – measurements to produce the first entries for an online technosignatures library.

The first Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)-specific NASA grant in over three decades has been awarded to Harvard & Smithsonian and the University of Rochester – a project to search the universe for signs of life via technosignatures.

The study, “Characterizing Atmospheric Technosignatures,” will initially focus on searching for two particular signatures that may indicate the presence of technological activities on extrasolar planetary bodies: solar panels and pollutants!

Credit: Center for Astrophysics/Harvard & Smithsonian

Solar power signature

“If a civilization wants to illuminate or warm up the night side, they would place photovoltaic cells on the day side and transfer the electric power gained to the night side,” said Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and the primary recipient of the grant.

Frank feels that now we know where to look. There are thousands of exoplanets including planets in the habitable zone where life can form. “The game has changed,” he believes.

Frank adds in a press statement: “Our job is to say, ‘this wavelength band’ is where you would see sunlight reflected off solar panels. This way astronomers observing a distant exoplanet will know where and what to look for if they’re searching for technosignatures.”

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Industrial activity

“My hope is that, using this grant, we will quantify new ways to probe signs of alien technological civilizations that are similar to or much more advanced than our own,” says Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard.

The other signature tactic is to survey planetary atmospheres that might show detectable signs of artificially produced molecules that nature is very unlikely to produce spontaneously, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The presence of CFCs—or refrigerant—therefore, could indicate the presence of industrial activity.

Technosignatures library

Loeb, Frank, and Jason Wright of Penn State University are joined by Mansavi Lingam of the Florida Institute of Technology, and Jacob Haqq-Misra of Blue Marble Space.

The study aims to eventually produce the first entries for an online technosignatures library.

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