Until now, NASA’s main objectives in the search for exoplanets (planets of other solar systems) have been to examine their conditions for life, but they had not devoted enough efforts to detect traces of advanced civilizations.
The team of NASA scientists working on the TESS mission, the ‘planet hunter’ telescope, has just joined the Breakthrough Listen project, which is focused on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
This agreement was announced by both organizations last Wednesday.
“It is exciting that the most powerful SETI search, with our partner facilities worldwide, is collaborating with the TESS team and our most powerful machine to find planets,” said Pete Worden, executive director of Breakthrough Initiatives, a program that encompasses several projects about space exploration.
“We are eager to work together while trying to answer one of the deepest questions about our place in the universe: Are we alone?” He added.
Since NASA launched the TESS into Earth’s orbit in April 2018, it detected more than 1000 “objects of interest,” 29 of which are confirmed exoplanets.
Earlier, the Kepler space telescope discovered approximately 70% of the 4,000 known exoplanets. It is estimated that the TESS will find more than 10,000 exoplanets in its first two years.
Like its predecessor, the TESS uses the transit method, which consists of observing attenuation in the brightness of a star to discover the planets that orbit it.
Now, Breakthrough Listen, in addition to its own scans with radio telescopes and optical telescopes, will search for “technology signatures” on the planets that TESS discovers.
Technology firms are indicators of advanced alien civilizations. According to the Space.com portal, these are presented in many forms, including in the filtering of television and radio broadcasts.
“We are very excited to join the SETI search for Breakthough Listen. Of all the efforts to look for exoplanets, only SETI promises to identify signs of intelligent life,” said TESS scientific assistant director Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The researchers will also look for disturbances in the “light curves” of the stars detected by the TESS.
A recently issued hypothesis is that such anomalies could be caused by in-orbit mega-structures built by advanced civilizations.
“The discovery by the Kepler spacecraft of the Boyajian Star, an object with wild and seemingly random variations in its light curve, aroused great emotion and a range of possible explanations of which the mega structures were only one,” said Andrew Siemion, director of the scientific team at Breakthrough Listen at the SETI Research Center in Berkeley.