The Kepler space telescope may be dead in the water, er space, but the data it has collected over the years lives on. A new initiative is set to use this data in an effort to locate alien spaceships, Dyson spheres, and a galactic laser internet — and they've been given $200,000 to make it happen.
Spaceship art from Alexander Preuss aka Vampeta, winner of the CG Society's Grand Space Opera challenge. [via Concept Ships]
The Templeton Foundation recently granted the money to Geoff Marcy, a NASA researcher for the Kepler mission. Marcy, who was recently appointed the new Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair for SETI at the University of California at Berkeley, is a superstar when it comes to detecting planets outside of our solar system. His work has resulted in the discovery of over 100 exoplanets, including the first system of planets orbiting a distant star.
And fascinatingly, he's going to use the same approach used to detect exoplanets to search for extraterrestrial artifacts like massive spaceships, Death Star-like objects, and Dyson spheres. By using the transit method, where the dimming of a star indicates the presence of an orbiting planet, Marcy hopes to detect artificial objects 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," he 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."
Indeed, Marcy is on the right track. A Dyson sphere — a hypothetical massive structure of solar panels that would completely surround a star at a distance of about 1 AU (the distance of the Earth to the Sun), would give off a tremendous amount of waste heat in the form of infrared radiation — a potentially detectable signature. The dimming of a Dyson-sphere-enveloped-star would be erratic or quasi-periodic, unlike the regular transit of planets. It's important to remember that a Dyson sphere would consist of a series of interconnected solar panels, and would not be a solid object.
And interestingly, Marcy is also going to use the $200,000 grant to look for a galactic laser internet by using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. From the SMH:
While the movie Contact, based on Carl Sagan's book of the same name, popularised the idea of aliens dozens of light-years away picking up an old telecast of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that was unintentionally transmitted into space, our civilisation has become quieter to any outside observers in recent decades. As our civilisation makes the jump from analog to digital, communication is increasingly carried by fibre-optic cables and relatively weak mobile phone repeaters rather than powerful broadcast transmitters. Rather than spilling out messy radio transmissions, Marcy posits that alien civilisations would use something much more precise and efficient than radio waves to stay connected, and lasers fit the bill. At the Keck Observatory, he hopes to spy an errant beam flashing from a distant star system, an observation that would be strikingly obvious on a spectrum.
And what should we do if we find something, like a Death Star?
"The first thing we do is transmit a message to them that says, 'We taste bad.'"