Here’s how tiny lasers could help us find extraterrestrial life

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FOR YEARS researchers have used radio to try to detect extraterrestrial life – but now scientists have turned to laser in hopes of finding aliens.

Last year, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) announced a program called LaserSETI to detect potential laser pulses coming from outside the solar system.

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SETI researchers attempt laser approach to detect extraterrestrial life

In order to achieve this goal, however, SETI needed to build a network of instruments to monitor the entire night sky.

And in late December 2021, scientists finally finished installing a second device with an expensive lens-camera-computer combo at Haleakala Observatory, located atop a mountain in Maui, Hawaii.

This new instrument is unprecedented when it comes to the search for extraterrestrial life, as for seven decades researchers have relied primarily on stray radio waves that can only scan a tiny sliver of the sky (and not for long either). ).

“Light messaging has a fundamental advantage over radio in that it can, in principle, transmit many more bits per second – typically half a million times more,” the SETI researchers wrote in an official statement. declaration.

“This increased bandwidth is a feature that would make lasers useful for communicating with off-world colonies, for example,” the officials added.

The east-facing instrument at Haleakala will be used in conjunction with a similar west-facing device at the Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sonoma, California.

Together, the two instruments can scan a 150-degree arc of the night sky more than a thousand times per second to detect laser pulses, which could be a potential sign of intelligent life.

Yet, while the two instruments are a big step towards improving space exploration, several more are needed around the world to fully cover the night sky.

“We’re trying to cover the whole sky all the time,” Eliot Gillum, the LaserSETI project’s chief investigator, told The Daily Beast.

Berkeley astronomer Dan Werthimer says 24-hour coverage of the entire sky is researchers’ best bet for detecting extraterrestrial life, like “a typical astronomy research telescope [can only] look at about a millionth of the sky at a time.

“So if ET flashes us once a day, once a month, or once a year, we would be very lucky to detect the flash with a telescope that can only examine a small portion of the sky,” Werthimer added. .

The Haleakala Observatory, located in Maui, Hawaii, is home to a new LaserSETI instrument.

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The Haleakala Observatory, located in Maui, Hawaii, is home to a new LaserSETI instrument.Credit: Getty
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