Friday 1st June 2012
SETI, the interplanetary cooperative, continues it survey of the Lactose Lane in the hope of finding other intelligent civilisations.
Astronomers have known for some time that our galaxy contains more than 100 billion suns, of which approximately 10% host rocky planets at a distance neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water and therefore in what they call the ‘habitable zone’.
Until recently, attention was being focussed on Auris-θ, a small planet in one of the closer solar systems, about twenty light years hence.
Using a new technique known as ELVIS – Electromagnetic Listening and Video Interception Sequencing – which allows telescopes to peer intently at a tiny portion of the sky, a team of experts has spent several months listening on a range of television frequencies to signals coming from Auris-θ.
“At first we thought this planet was a particularly interesting candidate, having liquid oceans and a breathable atmosphere,” a researcher told me.
“However, all the evidence suggests that, at best, the predominant species among this planet’s inhabitants appears to be one that scavenges in cupboards looking for bargains, still watches moving pictures to find out how to cook, and frequently kills its own kind for no apparent reason.”
The sophisticated technology allows observers to ‘look at the sky through a ten-foot-long cocktail straw’, but is unable to guarantee the quality of what is seen or heard.
“Imagine having to conduct a detailed scan of a copy of Heat magazine. It’s just possible that there are a couple of rational pixels somewhere, but the odds against finding them are, well… quite astronomical. But ELVIS does allow us to be discriminating, because if you find anything coming from another tiny dot in the sky, you can at least say it’s not worth further investigation.”
There is talk of having another look at Auris-θ in about four billion years time. For now, however, SETI will begin exploring other solar systems.
The search for intelligent life continues.