NASA has announced it may restart a search for intelligent life in the universe, looking for “technosignatures” from other races beyond our Solar System.
In 1993 NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program was canceled by Congress, citing a lack of funds and little evidence that the search was worthwhile. Since then, the field of SETI has relied on private funding from a number of wealthy benefactors.
But in an announcement yesterday, NASA said it was now looking at re-entering the field, hosting a workshop at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston this week to decide if the agency should reconsider the search for intelligent life.
“Fueled by the discovery that our galaxy is teeming with planets, interest in detecting signs of technologically-advanced life is again bubbling up,” NASA said in a statement.
“Although we have yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life, NASA is amplifying exploring the Solar System and beyond to help humanity answer whether we are alone in the universe.”
This latest search would focus on looking for technosignatures, radio signals or other evidence of artificial constructs that suggest intelligent life may exist on another planet. While seemingly far-fetched, such an idea has grown in possibility over the last few years.
Since NASA’s Kepler telescope launched in 2009, we have found thousands of worlds beyond our Solar System, some of which are similar in size to Earth and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Once we thought exoplanets could be rare; now it appears we are just one of billions in our galaxy alone.
With it that raises the prospect of other life like us. The SETI Institute in California has been looking for signals from other life for decades, and more organizations have since joined the hunt. The Breakthrough Listen project, funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, has been looking since 2016. And China’s giant FAST telescope has also been searching for intelligent life since it opened in 2016.
The chances of success are small, and the science – much less the existence – of finding other life is debated. Nonetheless, plenty of studies have suggested it might be possible, such as looking for chemical imbalances in the atmospheres of other worlds that hint at life, or even spotting the tell-tale signs of alien infrastructure.
NASA will use this workshop to decide if it’s worth re-joining the hunt. Many argue it should – and their involvement would be a huge boon to a field that has for so long struggled for funding.
“NASA’s science missions are working together with a goal to find unmistakable signs of life beyond Earth,” the agency said. “And perhaps that life could indeed be more technologically advanced than our own.”