Renowned Astronomer Given Go Ahead for New Alien Search
With NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler telescope reaching the end of its useful life, it is now up to private investors and companies to step up to the plate in supporting the search for intelligent life in our universe; and that is exactly what is occurring. Last month we reported on the launch of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence), a crowd-funded project set up by a group of businessmen and entrepreneurs to send out radio signals into the cosmos in the hope that an advanced civilization ‘out there’ might be able to pick them up. Now Geoff Marcy, renowned astronomer at the University of California who discovered nearly ¾ of the first 100 planets outside our solar system, has received funding to pursue his search for alien civilisations.
Marcy has been awarded a total of $US200,000 by the Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organisation dedicated to exploring the big questions of life, such as: ‘Are we alone?’. According to Marcy, that question is relatively easy to answer: "The universe is simply too large for there not to be another intelligent civilisation out there. Really, the proper question is: 'How far away is our nearest intelligent neighbour?' They could be 10 light-years, 100 light-years, a million light-years or more. We have no idea."
Geoff Marcy has now begun sifting through Kepler’s data, which includes data on 150,000 star systems gathered from its telescope 40 million miles from Earth, to determine if there is any evidence of extraterrestrial spacecrafts passing in front of distant stars.
So far, scientists have been able to identify exoplanets by noticing the way stars dim as the planet passes in front of it. But Marcy has hypothesised that the dimming could also be caused by a giant spacecraft moving close to the star. It all depends on the way it dims and the timing. For example, if the star dimmed, then came back, then dimmed out for a long time, then came on again, that pattern would not be consistent with the passing of a planet. It would also not confirm extraterrestrial presence but as Marcy stated, it would at least warrant further investigation.
The sheer scale of the funding that is emerging from private investors around the world, such as $US30 million coming from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to build a giant radio telescope array in San Francisco, is evidence that the almighty question of ‘are we alone?’ is not one that is going to be forgotten.