Astronomers probe the skies for optical technosignatures from aliens

The decade-long mission is set to survey the nearest million stars, the entire galactic plane, our galaxy's center, and the 100 galaxies closest to the Milky Way.


What else can we do in an attempt to find evidence of alien life? Astronomers want to probe the skies for optical technosignatures from aliens, in an attempt to answer the ultimate question of them all, are we alone in the universe? And to find alien life, look towards VERITAS. The VERITAS Collaboration, in partnership with Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Listen, is expanding the scope of its search for extraterrestrial intelligence by incorporating the quest for “optical technosignatures.”

The largest project in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), “Breakthrough Listen,” founded by Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner in 2015, has made a significant stride. Collaborating with VERITAS, they’ve extended the search for life beyond our world by focusing on “optical technosignatures.”

Astronomers Probe the Skies for Optical Technosignatures From Aliens

As revealed by Universe Today, Breakthrough Listen, initiated by Milner’s non-profit Breakthrough Initiatives, will employ world-class radio telescopes and state-of-the-art analytics to scrutinize technological activity or “technosignatures.” The decade-long mission is set to survey the nearest million stars, the entire galactic plane, our galaxy’s center, and the 100 galaxies closest to the Milky Way.

In 2018, Breakthrough Listen teamed up with the VERITAS Collaboration, an international effort utilizing the gamma-ray telescopes at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona. Recently, they published the first year’s findings of their search for “optical technosignatures” conducted between 2019 and 2020. These promising results lay the groundwork for future searches, encouraging the inclusion of optical pulses into the technosignature catalog.


Breakthrough in Technosignature Searches

Historically, SETI efforts have largely focused on radio transmissions as potential technosignatures. The field has broadened in recent years, considering directed-energy communications, spectral evidence for industrial pollutants in exoplanet atmospheres, and even extraterrestrial spacecraft or debris. The 2018 NASA Technosignature Workshop Report underscored these potential technosignatures.

VERITAS’s array of four 12-meter Cherenkov optical reflectors enhances Breakthrough Listen’s search for optical technosignatures. Specifically, they are on the lookout for nanosecond optical pulses that can be detected over interstellar distances. Gregory Foote, a co-author on the VERITAS paper, underscored the importance of looking beyond traditional radio technosignatures.

VERITAS Array Complementing NASA’s FRGST and LAT

The VERITAS array, completed in 2007, enhances NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Large Area Telescope. Its segmented mirror telescopes have the highest sensitivity in the very-high-energy band, vital for detecting high-energy optical pulses.


The Collaboration team has also evaluated VERITAS archival data dating back to 2012. Despite not finding evidence of nanosecond optical pulses, their work sets crucial parameters for future searches, narrowing down potential host stars for transmitting civilizations. The research also suggests significant implications for current and future gamma-ray observatories, including the forthcoming Panoramic All-sky All-time Near InfraRed and Optical Technosignature Finder (PANOSETI).

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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