- Researchers conducted a massive survey in search for extraterrestrial technology
- They surveyed a region that is believed to host over 10 million stars, but found ‘no signals’
- A future facility could give them the chance to survey billions of stars at once
A massive search for alien technologies turned up with no results but the researchers’ work is an excellent demonstration of how the search for intelligent life can be advanced.
Are we alone? That’s an age-old question that many have been trying to find answers to, including a pair of astronomers from Australia that completed what’s said to be a broader search for evidence of alien life than any of the previous attempts.
For their massive study, the team used the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in outback Western Australia to search for powerful radio emissions at frequencies much like the FM radio frequencies here on Earth. Finding these so-called “technosignatures” could suggest the presence of a potentially intelligent source.
Given its incredibly wide field of view, MWA allowed the astronomers to simultaneously observe millions of stars in the region of constellation Vela for 17 hours between Jan. 5 and Jan. 23, 2018. This region is already known to host six exoplanets in five stellar systems but, based on the Gaia catalog it is believed to have 10,355,066 stars, which means that the actual number of exoplanets in the region is likely to be much larger.
However, despite the massive number of stars that the team was able to observe, they found no technosignatures coming from the region.
“Following this search, we found no signals of an unknown nature,” the researchers wrote.
Although finding no signatures may seem like a disappointing result, it’s actually not surprising to the researchers.
“As Douglas Adams noted in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘space is big, really big,'” study co-author Professor Steven Tingay of Curtin University said in the university news release. “And even though this was a really big study, the amount of space we looked at was the equivalent of trying to find something in the Earth’s oceans but only searching a volume of water equivalent to a large backyard swimming pool.”
That said, the researchers’ work displayed how facilities with a wide field of view such as MWA can help progress the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), while also acknowledging how the process still has quite a way to go. Further, the researchers also note that perhaps other measures will be useful in the search.
“Since we can’t really assume how possible alien civilizations might utilize technology, we need to search in many different ways. Using radio telescopes, we can explore an eight-dimensional search space,” Tingay said. “Although there is a long way to go in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, telescopes such as the MWA will continue to push the limits — we have to keep looking.”
For the next stage, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) set to be built in Western Australia will likely be useful as it will allow the researchers to survey billions of star systems. But for now, any possible intelligent civilizations — at least in the part of the Universe that the researchers surveyed — remain elusive.
The study is published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia (PASA).