For a long time a marginalized and underfunded scientific domain, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may be all set to go live.
Astronomer Jason Wright is strong-minded to make this possible. At an assembly in Seattle of the American Astronomical Society in January, Wright called for “small groups in a small room” to develop a course to register the scientific field called SETI, over NASA’s program.
The group writes a series of articles that argue that scientists in the world of “techno signatures” should look at any sign of extraterrestrial technology, from radio signals to heat loss. The hope is that these documents will be the subject of a report to the Congress on the priorities of the astronomical community by the end of 2020. This report, Astro 2020: ten-year research on astronomy and astrophysics, will decide which telescopes are flying and which studies will receive federal funding in the next decade.
“The stakes are at the largest peak,” says Wright of Penn State University. “If the ten-year survey says that” SETI is a national scientific priority and NSF and NASA have to fund it “, they will.”
SETI research dates back to 1960, when astronomer Frank Drake made use of a radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, to hear the signals of an intelligent civilization. NASA, however, only launched an official SETI program in 1992, but canceled it in less than a year by the unconvinced Congress.
The rush to exoplanets has led to a wave of research into biosignatures, signs of microbial life on other planets. NASA’s next large space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, intends to look directly at signs of extraterrestrial life in exoplanet environments. So far no one has found a biosignature, let unaccompanied techno-signature. But emphasize on finding a plea for ignoring the other seems weaker, Wright added.