A Network of Hundreds of Telescopes Will Search for Extraterrestrial Life

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is a collective term for scientific searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life. A new team developed two new telescopes and installed them at the Lick Observatory near San Jose as a part of a more ambitious plan to create a network of hundreds of telescopes that will eventually surveil the entire visible sky.

The new telescopes are known as Pulsed All-sky Near-infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (PANOSETI). The telescopes are designed to detect flashes that occur on the nanosecond to second-time scales.

Scientific investigation for finding extraterrestrial life began in the early 1900s, and focused international efforts have been going on since the 1980s. In 1896, Nikola Tesla suggested that an extreme version of his wireless electrical transmission system could be used to contact beings on Mars. In 1899, he thought he had detected a signal from that planet since an odd repetitive static signal seemed to cut off when Mars set in the night sky. But it wasn’t the Martians!

Telescopes to look for extraterrestrial life

SETI projects were subjects to a lot of criticism. Their supporters were considered exaggerated, too euphoric, or as imaginary as the spirits and gods of religion or myth.

One of the difficulties of detection, if there is anything to detect, is the vastness of space. For most SETI projects to detect a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization, the civilization would have to be beaming a powerful signal directly at us. It also means that Earth civilization will only be detectable within a distance of 100 light-years.

So, maybe the PANOSETI will reduce the issue of vastness. But there is another problem: those civilizations might not be using radio to communicate. If the plan doesn’t work, the astronomers find comfort in the idea that the network will help uncover new astronomical phenomena.

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