Space

SETI project wants to hunt laser-wielding ETs

SETI project wants to hunt las...
The goal of the Laser SETI program it to look for signs of extraterrestrial civilizations using lasers
The goal of the Laser SETI program it to look for signs of extraterrestrial civilizations using lasers
View 4 Images
X-ray view of the laser-seeking camera
1/4
X-ray view of the laser-seeking camera
The goal of the Laser SETI program it to look for signs of extraterrestrial civilizations using lasers
2/4
The goal of the Laser SETI program it to look for signs of extraterrestrial civilizations using lasers
One of the camera elements
3/4
One of the camera elements
Possible Laser SETI observatory locations
4/4
Possible Laser SETI observatory locations

The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) focuses mainly on looking for radio signals from civilizations elsewhere in the galaxy, but the SETI Institute is taking a new approach – and it involves lasers. Seeking funding via a crowdfunding campaign, the Institute wants to build a series of specialized camera observatories to constantly scan the entire sky in search for transient laser flashes that could be signs of intelligent life.

For the past 60 years, the favored strategy for seeking signs of extraterrestrial civilizations has been to look for radio signals being deliberately beamed at the Earth. As such, the conventional SETI strategy is to look for long, repeating signals that are beamed at us for days or even months at a time on the assumption that the sender would want to give us time to notice the signal, then record several repetitions of it as a way to fill in any gaps caused by interference or the source setting below the horizon.

However, that isn't the only possible medium of interstellar communication. Lasers can also, in theory, be used to send messages between the stars. That's because they can be focused into extremely tight beams and tuned into monochromatic frequencies that can penetrate the dust and gas of space. Also, any laser signals reaching us may be very brief because they aren't intentionally aimed at us, but we just happen to be in the way for a short time. The same may be true of radio beams, but lasers are different in that it's possible to look at much larger sections of the sky at once for them than compared to radio signals.

One of the camera elements
One of the camera elements

What the SETI Institute plans is to set up a series of observatories around the world using specialized wide-angle cameras that can constantly watch the entire sky for signs of laser flashes that could be of intelligent origin. Called Laser SETI, the project intends to detect flashes as short as a millisecond or less, whether they repeat or not.

The private, nonprofit says that it has been working on the experiment for two years and is now ready to move to the field observation phase, but that means raising funds for the installation of two detectors and their operation. The hope is that this will eventually lead to large-scale production and deployment around the world.

The cameras use wide-angle optics and slitless spectroscopy to seek out monochromatic flashes in the sky at a rate of 1,000 frames per second. Using two cameras acting as back ups for each other, it's possible to cover large areas quickly and at lower cost.

Possible Laser SETI observatory locations
Possible Laser SETI observatory locations

As part of this effort, the Institute is running an Indiegogo campaign through next month with a goal of US$100,000. The money will be used to buy the two cameras and fabricate the specialized optics as well as cover initial operating costs as the equipment and its computer algorithms are tested. The Institute says that the goal is flexible and that additional funds will be used by the project up to US$510,000 for two complete observatories.

The ultimate goal is to one day have 14 observatories spread across the globe for continual observation regardless of weather with redundant observatories providing validation for any signals detected.

Perks for campaign contributors range for a sticker for US$25, to attendance at the launch party when the first observatory goes on line for US$10,000. At the time of publication, the campaign has raised just under a quarter of its goal, with a month left to run.

The video shows the design of the scanning camera.

Source: Indiegogo

Camera schematic and observatory layout

5 comments
barry
Space mobile ET aliens have to avoid hitting even small space rocks when traveling at a major fraction of the speed of light. To do this, they need some form of LIDAR. Two ET species have warned us of this problem. Those warnings are well over 50 years old. Where has SETI been all these years?
Wolf0579
I have, since it's inception, been a supporter of the idea of trying to recognize alien life, wherever it is. This arose from the earliest "flying saucer" reports and photos... the ones that were made before photoshop and even computers to run it were "a thing". I am convinced we, as a species, are under observation, and have been, since "biblical" times. Too many pre-historical accounts and even tapestries show UFOs in the sky. SETI has earned my undying scorn, by assuming an advanced sentient life form, would be using our primitive radio communications. It looks like SETI is finally realizing their mistaken assumptions. Something they should have done 30 years ago, imho. (EVERYTHING we humans do SHOULD BE considered primitive compared to a civilization twice or three times our age.)
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Maybe the aliens are waiting for us to develop subspace radio.
Christopher Nigel Phillips
I think the money could be better spent. As Wolf says these guys have been around a lot longer than us, and as far as I can tell from transcripts most of them use telepathy to communicate. A pocket size laser was supposed to have been recovered from the Roswell crashsite, but it was probably for surgical or cutting purposes. Why would you need a laser in space, unless we have been watching too much Star Wars? As far as I can tell, we are the main aggressors, and the latest version of Regan's laser screen is probably shooting down alien craft as we speak.
Tanstar
This article drew more than the normal amount of crazy . . .