7th November 2023 | Life Elsewhere, Tech stuff


Think looking for alien signals is straightforward? Looking through what is going on out there [on Earth], it is anything but. Strategy is important, but so is the perspective of the searchers. For such a large universe, signal detection differentiation appears extremely precious.

Our planet is noisy. Not only in a city noise pollution kind of way, but more from a “we’re sending all kinds of signals out into space every day” perspective. The world has gotten especially noisy since we learned how to transmit information via radio waves over a century ago.

According to a new study, some of the strongest of those radio signals have now reached far-off stars. If those stars happen to be home to extraterrestrial life we could be hearing back as early as 2029.

Radio signals

Radio searches for extraterrestrial intelligence have traditionally targeted the discovery of narrowband continuous-wave beacons and artificially dispersed broadband bursts.

A new search for extraterrestrial life aims to find out by listening for radio pulses from the center of our galaxy. Narrow-frequency pulses are naturally emitted by stars called pulsars, but they’re also used deliberately by humans in technology eg. radar. These pulses stand out against the background radio noise of space and are an effective way of communicating across long distances — an appealing target to listen for when searching for alien civilizations. 

Why so difficult?

In a recent study published in The Astronomical Journal, a researcher from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) discusses the potential reasons why we haven’t received techno-emissions from an extraterrestrial intelligence during the 60 years that SETI has been searching. Additional methods as to how we can continue to search for such emissions are proposed.

Dr. Claudio Grimaldi, who is a guest scientist at the Laboratory of Statistical Biophysics at EPFL and sole author of the study, suggests that Earth has not received a techno-emission simply because Earth could be in what he refers to as a “void space”, meaning the area of space that Earth resides in has been devoid of techno-emissions.

In other words – we are becalmed.

From this study:

-Researchers announced that we may be able to receive a radio signal reply from extraterrestrial life as early as 2029.

-There is a very low chance of this happening, but it is not impossible.

-The team followed deep-space radio signals to see what stars they hit and want to use those stars as listening targets to look for evidence of alien civilizations.

In the end, Dr. Grimaldi came up with three viewpoints of optimism regarding how long until Earth will detect a techno-emission, which he refers to as a “crossing event”: an optimistic timeframe of 60 years from now, a moderately optimistic timeframe of 170 years from and a marginally optimistic timeframe of 1800 years from now.


It’s all an incredibly long shot. “Our puny and infrequent transmissions are unlikely to yield a detection of humanity by extraterrestrials,” Jean-Luc Margot, a radio astronomer from UCLA, said in a Popular Science article. “The probability that another civilization resides in this tiny bubble is extraordinarily small unless there are millions of civilizations in the Milky Way.”

Scientists have captured mysterious radio signals traveling through space for more than a decade, baffled by what could be emitting such raging pulses.

Some experts believe the fast radio bursts (FRBs) could be aliens attempting to make contact with Earth, while others suspect black holes are the source.

Now, researchers at the University of Tokyo have suggested FRBs are caused by starquakes on rapidly spinning neutron stars that possess the most powerful magnetic fields in the known universe.

So the jury is well and truly out.

Ravi Kopparapu of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who was not involved in the work concurs with this assessment. “Unexpected discoveries come from unexpected sources,” he says. “In our common-knowledge thinking, we are in a box. It is hard for us to accept that there could be something else outside it.”

SETI’s focus on radio waves developed under particular circumstances during a small slice of human history. Although the undertaking has tried other means to discover intelligent aliens, such as looking for high-powered laser beams or evidence of massive star-encircling artificial structures called Dyson spheres, any search still seemingly remains just as limited by the human imagination as it is by fundamental physics.

References and Further Reading

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