Credit: Breakthrough Listen/Danielle Futselaar

 

There are key advantages of a radio telescope in lunar orbit, or on the surface of the lunar farside, for conducting the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – to give an ear for technosignatures from other starfolk.

A new research paper on the topic has been led by Berkeley SETI undergraduate intern Eric Michaud. Breakthrough Listen has submitted the white paper on lunar opportunities for SETI to the National Academy of Sciences Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.

A related paper was also submitted to the NASA Artemis III mission Science Definition Team.

Credit: Breakthrough Listen

Primary advantage

Shielded from the buzz and crackle of radio interference emanating from Earth, a Moon-based telescope would be a powerful new tool in the arsenal of technosignature science. The concept would be able to detect radio frequencies that are inaccessible to Earth-based observatories due to our planet’s ionosphere.

“The primary advantage for SETI is that the body of the Moon provides an excellent shield against terrestrial radio frequency interference,” the paper explains.

Earth satellite interference

Critically, the paper points out, recent trends conspire to make such a mission “not only increasingly feasible, but also increasingly necessary.”

First of all, an ever greater number of satellites being put in Earth orbit, such as the SpaceX StarLink constellation, may contribute tens of thousands of new satellites to the already Radio Frequency Interference (RFI)-dense swarm around the Earth. “This will further complicate Earth-surface-based SETI observation campaigns,” the paper argues.

Starlink satellites.
Credit: SpaceX

 

However, the same economic and technological forces which are enabling this ramping up of satellite launches — the reduction in satellite launch costs and the popularization of smaller satellite buses — also makes a lunar SETI mission more feasible.

Small organizations now routinely place relatively inexpensive satellites into orbit.

Rough blueprint

The newly issued paper flags the HawkEye 360, a small company based out of Virginia. The group has managed to design, build, and launch three satellites for the purpose of detecting and precisely locating radio sources on the surface of the Earth.

Credit: HawkEye 360 is a Radio Frequency (RF) data analytics company

“These missions and others form a rough blueprint for, and signal the increasing feasibility of, sending a small instrument dedicated to SETI to the Moon. Such a mission would enable a detailed survey of the lunar RFI environment, and act as a proof of concept for more sophisticated missions in the future,” the paper suggests.

A lunar SETI mission,” the paper concludes, “would mark the beginning of a new era in the history of SETI, where an increasing human presence in space is accompanied by an expanding ability to discover extraterrestrial life other than our own.”

To read the full paper — Overview – Lunar Opportunities for SETI – go to:

http://seti.berkeley.edu/lunarseti/Lunar_Opportunities_for_SETI.pdf

Read the paper — SETI from the Lunar South Pole — at:

https://ericjmichaud.com/moon-south-pole.pdf

For more information concerning Breakthrough Listen, go to:

https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/initiative/1

Also, go to this informative video that details the initiative at:

https://youtu.be/regFgP-s9Sk

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