Image: A panoramic image of the Milky Way. Could we use spectroscopic data from surveys already conducted to find evidence of other civilizations?
Credit: Photopic Sky Survey.

SETI: Rummaging in the Data


Astronomy is moving at a clip that sees more data accumulated than can possibly be examined at the time they’re collected. We’re creating vast storehouses of information that can be approached from various angles of study. Now ponder how we might use these data for purposes beyond what they were collected for. In a new paper submitted to the Astronomical Journal, Ermanno Borra (Université Laval, Québec) looks at how standard astronomical spectra — including those already taken — can be used as part of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Here’s the idea: Suppose somewhere out there a civilization decides to reveal its existence to the rest of the galaxy. These extraterrestrials reason from their own experience of science that an advanced civilization will study the sky and take spectra of astronomical objects. These spectra become the medium upon which the senders impose their signal. At our end, spectroscopic surveys of vast numbers of stars allow us to accumulate data that may contain evidence of an unusual signal, a spectrum deliberately crafted to be so striking that it calls attention to itself.

Read more: SETI: Rummaging in the Data — Centauri Dreams.

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