(ORDO NEWS) — A team of researchers has published new work suggesting that advanced aliens could send communication probes into our solar system and we can eavesdrop on the interstellar communication of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations passing through our solar system.
Communication in interstellar space could be improved by harnessing the ability of stars to focus and enhance communication, the researchers say. This could help us communicate with spacecraft exploring interstellar space, but it could also allow us to “intercept” communications from advanced alien civilizations in distant star systems. Experts say advanced extraterrestrial civilizations may have sent “communication probes” into our solar system to improve interstellar communications.
A group of graduate students from Pennsylvania State are looking for communications signals that the Sun could use if the transmissions went through our solar system.
The method, described in The Astronomical Journal and available on the arXiv website, was studied as part of the Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) course at the University of Pennsylvania.
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the gravitational pull of massive objects such as stars and black holes bends the light that passes through them. A gravitational lens occurs because the curved space around an object focuses and magnifies light, much like the lens of a telescope.
“Astronomers have looked at using gravitational lenses as a way to build a giant telescope to look at planets around other stars,” says Jason Wright, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Pennsylvania, course instructor and director of the Center for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
“We also thought that people would be able to communicate with their probes if we ever sent them to another star. If an extraterrestrial technological species was using our sun as a lens for interstellar communication, we might find these messages if we looked in the right place.”
To communicate across interstellar distances, scientists will likely need a network of probes or repeaters, similar to mobile phone masts in space, to ensure accuracy and power. The study looked at one of the stars closest to us to see if it would be the closest node in a communication network.
“People are constantly using networks to communicate around the world,” says Nick Tucey, a graduate student on the course who helped lead the project.
“When you use a mobile phone, electromagnetic waves are sent to the nearest mobile phone tower, which connects to the next one, and so on. Television, radio, and the Internet also use networked communication systems, which have many advantages over direct communications. On an interstellar scale, it makes sense to use stars as lenses, and we can deduce where to place probes to use them.”
To find out if they were aiming at something, the researchers observed in the opposite sky of the nearest solar system, Alpha Centauri, the distance between the Earth and the Sun is more than 550 times greater. Scientists believe that this could become the closest communication node in the interstellar network, and all that is needed is a probe in our solar system that will allow signalmen from an alien system to use our star as a kind of lens.
This has allowed scientists to potentially detect radio transmissions that could be signals sent directly to Earth to communicate with us, signals sent to other probes exploring the solar system, or perhaps even signals sent through a gravitational lens back to Alpha Centauri.
With this technique, scientists will be able to detect radio transmissions that could be sent directly to Earth to communicate with us or other solar system probes, and even interstellar messages sent through the gravitational lens of a potential intelligent extraterrestrial civilization in the Alpha Centauri system.
In addition, by studying these specific wavelengths, the researchers were able to collect a significant amount of data from the sky more quickly. While visiting the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, students collected data overnight.
The researchers collected and analyzed the data in collaboration with the organization Breakthrough Listen, which is looking for evidence of the existence of intelligent life outside the Earth.
During the short period of time that the students were observing, no extraterrestrial signals were detected at the wavelengths they were studying, which suggests that these waves are not directed towards the Earth. However, this does not mean that there are no signals, only that no signals were observed during the observations.
“Our search was limited to one night, so anything that didn’t show up during the search didn’t show up,” Tusay explained.
“While our limited search could miss existing probes if they weren’t continuously transmitting on these frequencies, it was a good test to see if such a search was possible.”
The researchers say they are proposing to expand the search to other nearby stars, or search at other frequencies, which may still yield results.
Currently, one of the students in this course is poring over archived data to see if the Breakthrough Listen observations have revealed other areas that could be ideal for gravity probes.
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