Searching for an object doesn’t always mean trying to find the object itself, but rather signs that it’s possible the object is around. Can’t find your keys? Why not grab all your laundry and shake it, listening for that familiar jingle? Geoff Marcy, the Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair for SETI at the University of California at Berkeley, is no longer just looking for exoplanets to signify alien life. He’ll be using the Kepler telescope in a massive search for signs of intelligent life out in the cosmos. If only it were as easily sending out an intergalactic census report.
Awarded a $200,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation, Marcy will now scour the Kepler data to search for signs of alien spacecraft, possible Dyson spheres, and even the presence of a “galactic laser internet.” This all sounds rather lofty, but Marcy is an expert when it comes to space exploration, having overseen the discovery of over 110 exoplanets — 70 out of the first 100 discoveries are credited to him — and he’ll be using roughly the same techniques in hunting out signs of alien life.
Many exoplanets are discovered using the transit method, where a star’s light dims due to an orbiting planet passing in front of it, and Marcy is optimistic that artificial creations could be observed in this way as well. “I do know that if I saw a star that winked out, then at some point it winked back on again, then winked out for a long, long time and then blinked on again, that that would be so weird,” Marcy told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Obviously that wouldn’t constitute the detection of an advanced civilization yet, but it would at least alert us that follow-up observations are warranted.” Dyson spheres are gigantic arrays of solar panels that are theoretically the end-all of advanced civilizations, in which a host star’s power is completely utilized. If any of these things are ever discovered, expect science to shit some major bricks. You’ll be able to tell by the shadows drifting across its pants.
Part of the grant money will be used to fund a software program that will help to study the Kepler data more efficiently. “Writing the computer code is not easy,” Marcy says. “There’s no prescription in any computer science book about how to search for aliens.” One might think they’d use crowd-sourcing to get other astronomers in on it for speediness’ sake, but probably not.
The rest of the funding will give Marcy access to Hawaii’s Keck Observatory, where he’ll be looking for laser emissions that may be indicative of a major communications system. Aliens ain’t got time for dial-up.
Even as the Kepler telescope is currently going through repair scenarios, there is still much extensive data for scientists to pore over. The short film below gives but a clue as to how much Kepler has advanced our knowledge of planets beyond our own solar system.