NASA has announced a new partnership with SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) scientists to scan scores of the nearest exoplanets for alien life.
Under the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project, a joint team will use NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellites (TESS) in order to track possible anomalies and ‘technosignatures’ in the stellar ‘light curves’, believed to be signs of advanced alien civilisations.
During the mission, researchers will have access to some of the most advanced observatories on Earth, includingthe Parkes and Green Bank radio telescopes, as well as MeerKAT and the SETI Institute's Allen telescope array.
Dr. S. Pete Worden, Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, expressed “excitement” over the fact that “the world's most powerful SETI search […] will be collaborating with the TESS team and our most capable planet-hunting machine”.
“We're looking forward to working together as we try to answer one of the most profound questions about our place in the Universe: Are we alone?”, he added.
Andrew Siemion, leader of the Breakthrough Listen science team, for his part, pointed in this context to previous discovery of Boyajian's Star made by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft of Boyajian's Star, “an object with wild, and apparently random, variations in its lightcurve”.
This “sparked great excitement and a range of possible explanations, of which megastructures were just one,” he added. The F-type main-sequence star, located in the constellation Cygnus, is approximately 1,470 light-years from Earth; sci-fi buffs had expressed hopes that the distant sun could be surrounded by a Dyson sphere, a hypothetical megastructure that is built around a star to capture as much of its light as possible.
The NASA-SETI project was launched after Elon Musk, the founder and lead designer of aerospace manufacturer SpaceX revealed last month that he did not believe in the existence of aliens, as he had seen "no signs of them".
“As far as we know, we are the only consciousness, the only life that's out there. There might be other life, but we've seen no signs of it…I have not seen any sign of aliens,” Musk said during a SpaceX presentation of the Starship prototype Mark-I in Texas.
It was SpaceX which launched NASA's TESS satellites into space, so that they could search exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away with the help of special cameras capable of observing 85 percent of the entire sky.