The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence went global this weekend as observatories in 13 nations on five continents trained their telescopes on several promising star systems.
While they don’t expect their one-day joint effort will find the kind of intentionally produced signal from afar that enthusiasts have been seeking for decades, participants say the undertaking illustrates just how far the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, has come.
Frank Drake made the world’s first such observations at the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia 50 years ago, listening on a single-channel receiver that took in radio waves one frequency at a time. Today’s technology allows scientists to receive radio signals at millions of different frequencies per minute, in addition to searching for laser-like bursts of light communication using optical telescopes.
The international star-viewing extravaganza, the first of its kind, comes at a time of fast-paced discovery in the science of exoplanets, bodies that orbit suns beyond our solar system.
Last month alone brought the announcement of the first Earth-sized planet found that appeared to be potentially habitable, as well as a study from top scientists in the field which concluded that the number of Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way alone could be counted in the tens of billions.
Suddenly, the prospects for finding planets that might have complex life and environments to support it appear to have brightened.