November 4, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

SETI at Night

For 50 years, searchers for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI) have thought that radio waves would provide the best signals, being able to traverse at the speed of light with little scattering.  Now, two physicists suggest another way: looking for the lights of their cities at night.

Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Edwin Turner (Princeton) teamed up in a paper describing the method, according to PhysOrg and  The method assumes aliens, like humans, would want to light up their cities at night.  It's a long shot, they admit, and would require "future generations of telescopes" to achieve, but maybe astronomers could practice the technique on outer moons of our own solar system, like Eris.  "It's very unlikely that there are alien cities on the edge of our solar system," Turner admitted.

On Astrobiology Magazine, other scientists gave their two cents on this idea.  Max Tegmark of MIT said, “It's not like I think there's a baseball stadium on Pluto, but we need to drop all preconceptions about what alien civilizations do and search in every way we can.”  His colleague Josh Winn added, “it's an intriguing and straightforward concept. A long shot, for sure, but fun to think about.”

Let’s take Max up on his advice of searching every way we can.  Since we're talking about future generations of detectors, why not write a scientific paper suggesting that future generations of electronic noses might be able to detect alien B.O.  Like Winn said, it’s fun to think about. 

Exercise.  Send us your concept for a new way to search for aliens. The aliens don’t have to exist, as long as it’s fun to think about.  Drop all preconceptions and speculate with reckless abandon.  Bonus points if your method can also detect gnomes and leprechauns.

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Categories: Awards, Dumb Ideas, SETI, Space


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