Wednesday 28 September 2016

Focus on Earth's 'transit zone' to find messages from aliens, scientists say

Published 01/03/2016 | 17:11

The transit zone within which distant observers could spot the Earth passing in front of the sun (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research)
The transit zone within which distant observers could spot the Earth passing in front of the sun (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research)

Scientists have come up with a new plan to avoid "missed calls" from extraterrestrials trying to contact Earth.

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The idea is based on the premise that alien astronomers will use the same techniques that we do to search for life-sustaining planets.

One of the key methods is to measure the dimming light caused by a planet crossing or "transiting" the front of its parent star.

The new proposal involves turning a collective ear to Earth's "transit zone" - the thin slice of space from which our planet's passage past the sun can be detected.

If most extraterrestrial signals are focused on this region, this would reduce the chances of missing them.

Dr Rene Heller, from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, said: "It's impossible to predict whether extraterrestrials use the same observational techniques as we do. But they will have to deal with the same physical principles as we do, and Earth's solar transits are an obvious method to detect us.

"The key point of this strategy is that it confines the search area to a very small part of the sky. As a consequence, it might take us less than a human life span to find out whether or not there are extraterrestrial astronomers who have found the Earth. They may have detected Earth's biogenic atmosphere and started to contact whoever is home."

The scientists have compiled a list of 82 nearby sun-like stars within the transit zone considered to have the best chance of hosting planets supporting highly evolved life.

The star catalogue is being offered as an immediate target list for Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Life) initiatives.

A paper on the research is due to appear in the journal Astrobiology.

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