“I do indeed suspect there are other intelligent civilizations in the galaxy – we just need to look!” said astrophysicist Andrew Siemion, principal investigator for the Breakthrough Listen program and director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center, in an email to dailygalaxy.com.
“It’s exciting that the world’s most powerful SETI search, with our partner facilities across the globe, will be collaborating with the TESS team and our most capable planet-hunting machine,” said Pete Worden, executive director of Breakthrough Initiatives, a program that includes the Breakthrough Listen project, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to working together as we try to answer one of the most profound questions about our place in the universe: Are we alone?”
TESS launched to Earth orbit in April 2018, on a mission to hunt for alien planets circling bright, relatively nearby stars, has spotted more than 1,000 “objects of interest,” 29 of which are confirmed alien planets. The spacecraft uses the “transit method,” which looks for slight dips in star brightness caused when an orbiting planet crosses the star’s face from TESS’ perspective, similar to NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which discovered about 70% of the 4,000 or so known alien worlds. But TESS will likely be even more prolific, finding perhaps 10,000 or more new exoplanets over the course of its two-year primary mission, according to team members.
Breakthrough Listen will be looking for “technosignatures” – indicators of advanced alien civilizations-coming from new TESS worlds. Technosignatures include “leakage” from TV and radio broadcasts, which could theoretically betray humanity’s presence to advanced hostile aliens.
Breakthrough Listen will now add TESS objects of interests to its target list, scanning promising worlds with a range of instruments, including the Green Bank and Parkes radio telescopes in West Virginia and Australia, respectively; the MeerKAT radio array in South Africa; and the Automated Planet Finder optical telescope in California scanning for anomalies in the stellar “light curves” TESS collects. These anomalies could potentially be caused by orbiting megastructures built by advanced civilizations.
It would be remarkable if radar imaging or flyby photography near an interstellar relic within the solar system would show signs of an advanced technology that our civilization had not mastered as of yet, observed Harvard astrophysicist, Avi Loeb, a Breakthrough advisor, in his Scientific American blog. “When exploring habitable worlds around other stars, we might therefore find planets with burnt-up surfaces, abandoned mega-structures or planetary atmospheres rich with poisonous gases and no sign of life,” says Loeb
“The discovery by the Kepler spacecraft of Boyajian’s Star, an object with wild, and apparently random, variations in its light curve, sparked great excitement and a range of possible explanations, of which megastructures were just one,” Andrew Siemion, leader of the Breakthrough Listen science team at the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center, said in the statement. “Follow-up observations have suggested that dust particles in orbit around the star are responsible for the dimming, but studies of anomalies like this are expanding our knowledge of astrophysics, as well as casting a wider net in the search for technosignatures,” Siemion added.
At the end of the day, the looming question in the search for alien technosignatures is: will the be from living or long extinct civilizations?
The Daily Galaxy, Jake Burba, via Breakthrough Initiatives
Image at top of page: TESS first light captured this strip of stars and galaxies in the southern sky all the way through one 30-minute duration on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. Created through combining the view from all four of its cameras.