Scientists are searching the universe for signs of alien civilizations: 'Now we know where to look'


For the first time in more than three decades, research scientists have received grant money from NASA to search for intelligent life in outer space.

Specifically, the grant will provide funding for a project to search for signs of life via "technosignatures."

"Technosignatures relate to 'signatures' of advanced alien technologies similar to, or perhaps more sophisticated than, what we possess," said Avi Loeb, a professor of science at Harvard and one of the grant recipients.

"Such signatures might include industrial pollution of atmospheres, city lights, photovoltaic cells (solar panels), megastructures or swarms of satellites."

Researchers believe that although life appears in many forms, the scientific principles remain the same, and that the technosignatures on Earth will also be identifiable in some fashion outside the solar system, according to a statement from one of the grant recipients, the Center for Astrophysics, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory.

The recent surge of results in exoplanetary research – including planets in habitable zones and the presence of atmospheric water vapor – over the past five years has revitalized the search for intelligent life.

Exoplanets are planets beyond our own solar system. Overall, in the past 25 years, researchers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets, including some Earth-like planets that may have the potential to harbor life.

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"The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence has always faced the challenge of figuring out where to look," said Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and the primary recipient of the grant. "Which stars do you point your telescope at and look for signals?

"Now we know where to look. We have thousands of exoplanets including planets in the habitable zone where life can form. The game has changed."

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A civilization, by nature, will need to find a way to produce energy, and, Frank said, “there are only so many forms of energy in the universe. Aliens are not magic.”

The researchers will begin the project by looking at two possible technosignatures that might indicate technological activity on another planet: solar panels and pollutants, according to a statement from the University of Rochester.

“Our job is to say, ‘this wavelength band is where you might see certain types of pollutants, this wavelength band is where you would see sunlight reflected off solar panels,” Frank said. “This way astronomers observing a distant exoplanet will know where and what to look for if they’re searching for technosignatures.”

The grant totals nearly $287,000 and will last two years, with the option of being extended to a third year.

This announcement comes on the heels of a study released this month that said there could be more than 30 intelligent civilizations throughout our Milky Way galaxy alone.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NASA funds research into alien technological civilizations