New strategies for searching for extraterrestrial life

Posted Feb 18, 2020 by Tim Sandle
A series of new technologies are coming into play to help with the search for life on other worlds. These technologies augment the conventional detection of radio signals by attempting to spot other signs of technology.
Artist’s conception of HIP 13044 and its exoplanet. A previously discovered metal-poor planetary s...
Artist’s conception of HIP 13044 and its exoplanet. A previously discovered metal-poor planetary system, it was formed in another galaxy that our own galaxy engulfed.
ESO / L. Calcada / Handout
The new technologies form part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the collective term for scientific based investigations for intelligent extraterrestrial life. An example is Breakthrough Listen, set up by the late physicist Stephen Hawking with the Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. To date, over two PetaBytes of data has been collected from the Listen Initiative's international network of observatories.
The different technologies were presented at a recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) which took place in Seattle, Washington, which took place between February 13 and 16, 2020.
Among the technologies being deployed are the hunt for "technosignatures", such as examining for the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere. This refers to any measurable property or effect that provides scientific evidence of past or present technology. An example is the presence of heat or light thought to have been produced by artificial means.
Other technological searches include check for laser emissions and looking for artificial structures that may be orbiting other stars. This array of emergent technologies includes the ability to conduct visible-light and infrared searches.
Commenting on the new project, Tony Beasle of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) says: "Determining whether we are alone in the Universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science, and NRAO telescopes can play a major role in answering it."
In terms of future development, plans are afoot to construct a new telescope called the Very Large Array (comprised of 27 independent antennas). This device, which will operate from New Mexico, U.S., will have the capability to search a volume of the Universe a thousand times larger than can currently be tracked, assessing the stars for atypical radio technosignatures.