NASA has issued its first grant toward the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) in three decades, funding work that will take place as a collaboration between the University of Rochester and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This is the first time NASA has ever awarded a grant for non-radio technosignatures, meaning the researchers will study the potential technological signals indicating advanced alien technologies.
The project funded by the grant was recently detailed by both the University of Rochester and the Center for Astrophysics. According to the releases, the researchers will focus on looking into the types of evidence indicating technologies beyond Earth that could only come from advanced alien civilizations.
The study will focus specifically on exoplanets, which are potentially habitable Earth-like planets that are within the goldilocks zone of their stars. These planets have the potential for hosting life, but whether any actually contain life — particularly advanced civilizations like Earth — is entirely unknown at this point in time.
The team will first focus on two particular types of technosignatures that, if discovered, would indicate the presence of polluting industries and solar panels. Artificial chemicals detected in a distant planet’s atmosphere would indicate industry activity not unlike what takes place on Earth, for example, and wavelengths of light reflected off of solar panels would hint at aliens that harvest energy from their star using solar arrays.
More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered in the past couple of decades, giving researchers a vast catalog of places to look. Whereas scientists have previously focused on the biosignatures that may indicate the presence of life on these planets, this study will focus on the technosignatures, ultimately making the information available to astrophysicists and astronomers so that they know what kind of data to look for.