ET phone Dublin?

The I-LOFAR array as seen from above.
Credit: I-LOFAR

Astrophysicists scan the Galaxy for signs of life.

Astrophysicists from Trinity College Dublin are scanning the Universe for “technosignatures” emanating from distant planets that would provide support for the existence of intelligent, alien life.

Using the Irish LOFAR telescope and its counterpart in Onsala, Sweden, the team – led by Professor Evan Keane, Associate Professor of Radio Astronomy in Trinity’s School of Physics, and Head of the Irish LOFAR Telescope – plans to monitor millions of star systems.

Scientists have been searching for extraterrestrial radio signals for well over 60 years. Many of these have been carried out using single observatories which limits the ability to identify signals from the haze of terrestrial interference on Earth. Much of the effort has focused on frequencies above 1 GHz because the single-dish telescopes employed operate at these frequencies.

Now, a new collaboration led by Trinity College Dublin, with the Breakthrough Listen team and Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, is perfecting a multi-site, multi-telescope technique that allows them to search at much lower frequencies of 110 – 190 MHz.

The Breakthrough Listen programme is the most comprehensive search for technologically advanced extraterrestrial life, developing dedicated instruments at the Irish and Swedish LOFAR stations. Using multiple sites has the major benefit that it is much less likely to provide a “false positive” signal; such signals arise due to interference from many human sources on Earth.

The team has just published details of their method and their ongoing search in the Astronomical Journal They have already scanned 1.6 million star systems flagged as interesting targets by the Gaia and TESS space missions, run by ESA and NASA respectively. So far these searches have drawn a blank.

But the search has only just begun…

Prof. Keane said: “In the last 50 years evidence has steadily mounted that the constituents and conditions necessary for life are relatively common in the Universe, which begs one of life’s greatest unanswered questions: are we really alone?

“To some people the ‘Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI’ might seem like something from a movie, but it has been a scientific pursuit for decades, and for a host of very good reasons. With this project we are basing our search on the common assumption that civilisations elsewhere in the Universe may employ similar technologies to those developed on Earth. As a result radio frequencies are a logical domain for conducting SETI surveys due to the widespread use of telecommunications and radar and our access to next-gen radio telescopes offers a great chance for a deep dive into the Universe.”

Owen Johnson, PhD Candidate in Trinity’s School of Physics, is the first author of the journal article, and the first Irish person to ever undertake a PhD on the topic of SETI. He added:

“What makes surveys like this one truly captivating is the fact that we’re pushing these telescopes to their absolute limits, directing them towards substantial portions of the sky. As a result, we have the exciting possibility of discovering all sorts of wild and wondrous phenomena during this process and if we’re very fortunate, even encountering our cosmic neighbours. 

“LOFAR is soon to undergo a staged series of upgrades across all stations in the array across Europe, which will allow an even broader SETI at ranges of 15 – 240 MHz. We have billions of star systems to explore and will be relying on some machine learning techniques to sift through the immense volume of data. 

“That in itself is interesting – it would be fairly ironic if humankind discovered alien life by using artificial intelligence.”

Journal: The Astronomical Journal
DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/acf9f5

Media Contact

Thomas Deane
Trinity College Dublin
deaneth@tcd.ie
Office: 867870784

Media Contact

Thomas Deane
Trinity College Dublin

All latest news from the category: Physics and Astronomy

This area deals with the fundamental laws and building blocks of nature and how they interact, the properties and the behavior of matter, and research into space and time and their structures.

innovations-report provides in-depth reports and articles on subjects such as astrophysics, laser technologies, nuclear, quantum, particle and solid-state physics, nanotechnologies, planetary research and findings (Mars, Venus) and developments related to the Hubble Telescope.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

Machine learning algorithm reveals long-theorized glass phase in crystal

Scientists have found evidence of an elusive, glassy phase of matter that emerges when a crystal’s perfect internal pattern is disrupted. X-ray technology and machine learning converge to shed light…

Mapping plant functional diversity from space

HKU ecologists revolutionize ecosystem monitoring with novel field-satellite integration. An international team of researchers, led by Professor Jin WU from the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Hong…

Inverters with constant full load capability

…enable an increase in the performance of electric drives. Overheating components significantly limit the performance of drivetrains in electric vehicles. Inverters in particular are subject to a high thermal load,…

Partners & Sponsors