SETI had been engaged in what most scientists have believed for years is an extremely unlikely quest to pick up intelligently generated signals from alien civilizations. The reason is that SETI has only be able to listen for very powerful signals that might be intentionally beamed toward earth. The chances of finding such signals have been thought to be so small as to be almost zero, because they require first that an ET civilization find us, second that they want to transmit to us, and third that we are listening when the signal arrives.
Dr. Avi Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics says that a newly proposed search will look for transmissions that are the equivalent of the two types that now leave earth's atmosphere and enter deep space: television signals and military radar. These signals do not need to have been beamed at earth, according to Dr. Loeb, who intends to use a scientific instrument called MWA-LFD (Mileura Wide-Field Arry Low Frequency Demonstrator). The new SETI effort can piggyback onto this system's study of the ultra distant young universe and observe approximately 1,000 stars in a range of 30 light years from earth. This would pick up transmissions equivalent to normal earth television signals.
If this program succeeded, it would be the equivalent of winning the lottery many times over, but future observatories like the Square Kilometer Array now under construction could detect signals from up to 100 million stars up to 300 light years distant. If we do detect television signals, it is reasonably likely that we would be able to view them, unless they are intentionally encrypted, which is unlikely if they are public broadcasts from another world.
Art credit: Dana Augustine
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