Image: Our Milky Way presents a field full of stars. How to search for signs of an extraterrestrial civilization among the countless targets? Looking for a Dyson sphere is unorthodox, but some scientists are suggesting this and other unusual ways of detecting the macro-engineering of distant civilizations. Image credit: NASA.


SETI: The Artificial Transit Scenario

by PAUL GILSTER on MARCH 7, 2013

Among the many memorable things Freeman Dyson has said in a lifetime of research, one that stands out for me is relatively recent. “Look for what is detectable, not for what is probable.” This was Dyson speaking at a TED conference in Monterey, CA back in 2003, making the point that the universe continually surprises us, and by making too many assumptions about what we are looking for, we may miss unexpected things that can advance our understanding. Dyson has been thinking about this for a long time considering that it was way back in 1960 that he first suggested looking for the excess infrared radiation that might flag a distant Dyson sphere.

I would call this an unorthodox approach to SETI in its day except that when he first came up with it, Dyson didn’t have a SETI effort to consider. It was only in the same year that Cornell’s Frank Drake began SETI observations at Green Bank, and a scant year before that that Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi published the seminal paper “Searching for Interstellar Communications” in Nature. SETI in 1960 was a nascent field, but it would soon be focused on radio and, later, optical transmissions. Even so, Dyson’s thinking remains viable and unorthodox SETI efforts continue.

Read more: SETI: The Artificial Transit Scenario — Centauri Dreams.

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