An artist's rendering of a free-floating planet belonging to advanced aliens. Depositphotos.

New technique for finding messages from alien civilizations

Is ET calling us?


Scientists have come up with a new technique for finding and vetting messages from alien civilization from deep space.

Scientists have broken new ground in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), revolutionizing the way we track and validate potential radio signals from galactic civilizations. This novel method, likely to strengthen our confidence in future alien life detection, marks a major stride in SETI studies.

New technique for finding messages from alien civilizations

Most SETI investigations currently rely on terrestrial radio telescopes, making them susceptible to radio interference from various terrestrial and satellite sources – anything from Starlink satellites and mobile phones to microwaves and car engines. This interference can mimic technosignatures of extraterrestrial civilizations, leading to a number of false alarms since SETI’s inception in 1960.

Navigating the Noise: The Struggle to Confirm Signals

Researchers traditionally check these signals by diverting the telescope to a different part of the sky, then returning to the original signal’s location several times to confirm it wasn’t just a fleeting anomaly. Still, even following these steps, there’s a chance the signal could be an unusual terrestrial phenomenon.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen project have developed a fresh technique to counteract this problem. Their method checks whether the signal has traversed interstellar space, effectively ruling out Earth-originating radio interference.


Breakthrough Listen: Taking SETI to New Frontiers

Breakthrough Listen, one of the most extensive SETI searches globally, uses radio telescopes to scan the northern and southern skies for technosignatures. Its attention is primarily on thousands of individual stars in the Milky Way, likely targets for civilizations aiming their signals towards us, especially towards the galactic center.

Andrew Siemion, the Principal Investigator for Breakthrough Listen and the Director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center (BSRC), praised the new technique as a major leap in radio SETI. This development could help distinguish a single signal from radio frequency interference—an invaluable asset when dealing with potential ‘one-off’ signals such as the famed 1977 “Wow!” signal.

Powerful Scintillation Technique: A New Dawn in Alien Signal Detection

Detailed in a paper published today (July 17) in The Astrophysical Journal, the scintillation technique is set to be a major tool in future Breakthrough Listen observations, including those at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the MeerKAT array in South Africa.

SETI researchers have long been scanning the skies for signals that diverge from typical cosmic radio emissions, with a focus on narrowband radio signals, distinct from the broadband radio waves produced by natural cosmic sources. However, the profusion of Earth-generated narrowband radio bursts complicates the task, making space-based signal detection akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

A Game-Changer for Signal Verification

This new method by Siemion and his colleagues is based on the observation that genuine extraterrestrial signals should display unique characteristics as they pass through the Interstellar Medium (ISM), enabling us to differentiate between terrestrial and space-based radio signals. Signals affected by the ISM’s cold plasma show amplitude fluctuations or ‘scintillate,’ much like the twinkling of stars caused by our atmosphere.


However, the technique would only apply to signals originating from more than 10,000 light-years away, as the signal must journey through sufficient ISM to exhibit detectable scintillation.

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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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