Washington: A NASA researcher is sifting through uninvestigated data from the planet-hunting Kepler telescope - in the hope of finding alien spacecraft passing in front of distant stars.
Geoff Marcy, an official NASA researcher for the Kepler mission and astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley, is credited with the discovery of nearly three-quarters of the first 100 planets found outside our solar system.
With the hobbled planet-hunting Kepler telescope having just about reached the end of its useful life and reams of data from the mission still left uninvestigated, Marcy began looking in June for alien spacecraft passing in front of distant stars, `Washington Post` reported.
Marcy has also been awarded USD 200,000 by the Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organisation, to pursue his search for alien civilisations, last year.
Launched in 2009, Kepler has found 132 exoplanets and possibly 3,216 more that await confirmation. The telescope has collected data on 150,000 star systems, and researchers are only beginning to pick through all the information.
Marcy hopes that hiding within it will be hints about intelligent life abroad.
"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 said.
"Obviously that wouldn`t constitute the detection of an advanced civilisation yet, but it would at least alert us that follow-up observations are warranted," he added.
Such an irregular pattern might signal the unpredictable passage of massive spacecraft in front of the star.
More likely, it might indicate the presence of a Dyson sphere - a system of orbiting solar-power satellites meant to completely encompass a star and capture most or all of its energy output. It is believed that existence of such structures may lead to the detection of advanced intelligent extraterrestrial life.
If Dyson spheres pop up in the data, Marcy thinks they would more likely appear as a patchwork of solar panels rather than a solid sphere. Perhaps the dimming of a star would be erratic or quasi-periodic.
To detect such aberrant dimming patterns, Marcy`s Templeton grant is funding the salary of a Berkeley student to write software that will chew through the Kepler data.
Meanwhile, Marcy will also spend time on the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to search for a galactic laser Internet.