by Vittorio Compagno for the Carl Kruse Blog
We’ve been watching the skies for over 400 years now.
In 1608, Dutch spectacle and lens makers Hans Lippershey and Zacharias Janssen, and (separately) Jacob Metius created the first telescopes. In 2018, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was launched and stills remains one of the most advanced photometric survey instruments available to us today. TESS has generated images of tens of millions of stars since its launch thanks to its use of a highly advanced transit method which has the capability to scan an area 400 times greater than that of the Kepler mission (launched in 2009, see Kepler Blog post on Carl Kruse Blog). The transit method involves the detailed observation of a star in order to detect any cyclical or recurrent changes (called reductions) in the brightness from the star, which might indicate the presence of an exoplanet orbiting the star.
The TESS Space Telescope
The question is now that we have the knowledge that we have acquired from TESS and other such observational platforms of thousands of planets besides our own, could it be possible that some of these exoplanets and planetary systems might be home to intelligent, advanced, and/or technologically capable life, at least in our conception of what this might entail?
Some theories suggest if it were the case that intelligent civilizations existed within our galaxy, they might have developed artificial structures or equipment to harvest energy, perhaps placing these structures into orbit around their host star. The presence of certain periodic phenomena detected using the transit method might reveal proof of these foreign structures. Some astronomers believe this entirely possible. The sheer quantity of data produced by TESS could be one of the best places in which to discover these so-called alien structures, as well as where one might discover intellectually advanced extra-terrestrial life through TESS data. In 2015, the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, a project aimed at searching for extra-terrestrial communications in the universe began, using primarily radio wave data from the Green Bank and Parkes Observatories as well as observations of visible light from the Automated Planet Finder. As part of this successful project, SETI scientists are using the TESS transit method data in order to attempt to identify any nearby (though this is relative in space terms) radio transmitters within our galaxy.
The SETI Institute recently invited two scientists to shed light on the prospect of discovering technosignatures within the dataset that TESS provides. Technosignatures are any measurable property or effect that provide scientific evidence of past or present technology which might indicate the presence of intelligent alien life outside of planet Earth, and which might take the form of radio signals, Dyson spheres, pollutants, particle colliders, or apocalypse.
The scientists were Ann Marie Cody, Principal Investigator with the SETI Institute’s Carl Sagan Center. Cody received funding from NASA to survey the TESS dataset in order to detect megastructures (similar to Dyson spheres) in orbit around observed star systems; and Noah Franz, a researcher at Berkeley SETI and Siena College who pioneered an article reporting on the search for technosignatures in radio using the Green Bank Telescope for several targets of the TESS catalogue.
The chat can be viewed at the SETI Institute’s website here.
Joining the two experts in the field was Franck Marchis, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute and Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar. During the course of their discussion, the trio considered and reflected upon the advancement of current investigative techniques in helping better understand the confirmed 5,000 exoplanets and 4,000 TESS candidate exoplanets. The researchers also discussed how their own research might be relevant within an astrobiological context, and further explored the significance of anomalies in technosignatures and other such signals in bringing us (hopefully) closer to discovering extra-terrestrial or otherwise alien life within the boundaries of our known universe.
Regardless of whether we finally end our search for E.T. through the use of such mediums as TESS, the hope is that any weird and wonderful discoveries made through the aforementioned technology could bring meaningful scientific information. The guest scientists for this SETI talk inveastigated what this newfound data might mean for the science of the future.
The talk was supported by the generous contributions of donors during the SETI Institute’s Giving Day 2022. SETI Talks are presented to their audience at no cost and are supported by contributions from supporters. If you are interested in sponsoring a future SETI Talks, please email SETI at [email protected]
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Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Vittorio include The Psychology of Colors in Social Media, AI and Theater, and the Story of Aviation.
Carl Kruse can be found on his SETI profile.