Innovative Method Used by Astronomers in the Hunt for Extraterrestrial Technosignatures


Technosignatures are any measurable properties that could potentially indicate the existence of extraterrestrial technology. They are the primary focus of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), a subsection of astrobiology. The primary method of research in SETI has been targeted radio surveys, although there are many ongoing projects that are also conducted within the radio band.

A new technique, known as the SETI Ellipsoid, has been proposed for the selection of potential technosignature candidates. This technique is based on the assumption that extraterrestrial civilizations that have observed a galactic-scale event, such as the supernova SN 1987A, might use such events as a reference point to broadcast synchronized signals indicating their existence.

This method was proposed by Dr. Bárbara Cabrales from the SETI Institute and the Berkeley SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, along with her colleagues. The SETI Ellipsoid method aims to enhance our capacity to detect potential technosignatures by leveraging continuous, wide-field sky surveys. This is accomplished by compensating for the uncertainties in the estimated arrival times of potential signals with observations that span up to a year.

In their research, Dr. Cabrales and her team examined data from the continuous viewing zone of NASA’s TESS mission, which covers 5% of all TESS data from the first three years of the mission. They utilized the advanced 3D location data from Gaia Early Data Release 3 and identified 32 prime targets within the SETI Ellipsoid in the southern TESS continuous viewing zone.

The study demonstrates the potential of cross-matching Gaia’s highly precise distance estimates with other time-domain surveys like TESS to enhance monitoring and anomaly detection capabilities in SETI research. The SETI Ellipsoid method, combined with Gaia’s distance measurements, provides a robust and adaptable framework for future SETI searches. Astronomers can use it retrospectively to sift through archival data for potential signals, proactively select targets, and schedule future monitoring campaigns.

The SETI Ellipsoid technique represents a significant advancement in the search for technosignatures. It allows for the analysis of large archival databases and has the potential to greatly enhance our ability to detect signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The researchers’ paper detailing their findings is published in the Astronomical Journal.



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