The real science behind SETI’s hunt for intelligent aliens


I’ve been fascinated by SETI for quite a while now, so whenever I stumble over a link with info about it I tend to inhale it. Maybe, partly, because it’s so ridiculous. Who knows.

Anyways, let’s get to the sciency bits!

You may have heard of searching for life on other planets by looking for “biosignatures”—molecules or phenomena that would only occur or persist if life were present.

To detect spectroscopic biosignatures we will need telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) or the ground-based Extremely Large Telescope, both currently under construction.

JWST is currently facing delays (again) though. Also, do yourself a favour and check out telescope names, there are some nice ones! There’s (of course!) even a relevant XKCD

[…]It would be most promising to look for radio waves because they are less likely to be absorbed by planetary atmospheres and require less energy to transmit.[…]

What’s special about these signals is that they exhibit high degrees of coherence, meaning there is a large amount of electromagnetic energy in just one frequency or a very small instance of time—not something nature typically does.

In March 2019, Pennsylvania State University announced the new Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center (PSETI)—to be led by Wright, who is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the school. One of just two astrobiology PhD programs in the world (the other is at UCLA), PSETI plans on hosting the first Penn State SETI Symposium in June 2021.

Some of PSETI’s main goals are to permanently fund SETI research worldwide, train the next generation of SETI practitioners, and support and foster a worldwide SETI community.

Wright often calls SETI low-hanging fruit. “This field has been starved of resources for so long that there is still a ton of work to do that could have been done decades ago,” says Wright. “We can very quickly make a lot of progress in this field without a lot of effort.”

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