NASA subsidizes the search for extraterrestrial signals

When Frank Drake launched the first research project of extraterrestrial intelligence in 1960, he aimed at the radio waves that an advanced civilization could emit in our Universe. Today, NASA has decided to go further by subsidizing research on other technosignatures. Those produced by photovoltaic panels or by polluting chemicals, for example.

How do you know if an exoplanet is, or has been, inhabited by an intelligent extraterrestrial life form  ? By tracking down what astronomers call techno signatures. And NASA (United States) has just awarded a team, a grant dedicated to the study of these signs detectable from Earth – for the first time, other than radio signals , already studied for a long time -, technologies, past or present, used on other planets.

The  Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence program ,  understand search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti), was looking a little random. “Today we know which stars to aim for. We have identified thousands of exoplanets. And even exoplanets located in the habitable zone of their star. The game has changed, ” enthuses Adam Franck, astrophysicist , in a press release from the University of Rochester (United States).

In search of photovoltaic panels and air pollutants

Among the technosignatures envisaged, that which would indicate that an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization produces energy . Because a planet largely equipped with photovoltaic panels , for example, would present a particular spectral signature. Another avenue for researchers: the signatures of chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons ( CFCs ). These would indeed betray the presence on a planet of an industrial civilization.

“Our job is to identify the wavelengths of light from a star when reflected by solar panels installed on an exoplanet or the wavelengths absorbed by certain types of pollutants in the atmosphere of a planet. So astronomers looking for technosignatures will know where and what to look for, ” says Adam Franck. All this information will be gathered in an online library of technosignatures available to researchers.