New instrument to hunt for aliens using infrared light

Could aliens be transmitting infrared beacons? If so a new instrument can detect them!

PTI| Updated: Mar 29, 2015, 12:47 PM IST
New instrument to hunt for aliens using infrared light

Washington: Could aliens be transmitting infrared beacons? If so a new instrument can detect them!

Astronomers have developed a new instrument that will scan the sky for pulses of infrared light to speed up the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

"Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication," said Shelley Wright, an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego.

Pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from greater distances.

It also takes less energy to send the same amount of information using infrared signals than it would with visible light, researchers said.

Three years ago while at the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Wright purchased newly available detectors and found they worked well enough to deploy to a telescope.

Jerome Maire, a Fellow at the Dunlap played a key role in the hands-on effort to develop the new instrument, called NIROSETI for near-infrared optical SETI.

NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analysed for potential signs of other civilisations, a record that could be revisited as new ideas about what signals extraterrestrials might send emerge.

Because infrared light penetrates farther through gas and dust than visible light, this new search will extend to stars thousands rather than merely hundreds of light years away.

NIROSETI has been installed at the University of California's Lick Observatory on Mt Hamilton east of San Jose and saw first light on March 15.

The instrument could uncover new information about the physical universe as well, researchers said.

"This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales," said Dan Werthimer of UC Berkeley.

"The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone," said Werthimer.

Frank Drake of the SETI Institute pointed out several additional advantages to a search in this new realm.

"The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success," he said.