Search for alien life among 10 million star systems ends with no results

A search for alien life in other star systems has come up empty-handed. A recent project named “Looking for E.T.” scanned over 10 million star systems (solar systems) for signs of technological advancement suggesting alien civilization ended up empty-handed.

The project was headed by astronomers at Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in western Australia, aiming to find low radio frequencies that would suggest the presence of extraterrestrial life. However, the project failed to find any signals while surveying the millions of star systems analyzed. The results were published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

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The published study was authored by Chenoa Tremblay from CSIRO and Steven Tingay from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). The MWA radio telescope they used has a frequency range of 80 to 300 MHz.

“The MWA is a unique telescope, with an extraordinarily wide field-of-view that allows us to observe millions of stars simultaneously,” said Trembley in a Curtin University press release. “We observed the sky around the constellation of Vela for 17 hours, looking more than 100 times broader and deeper than ever before. With this dataset we found no technosignatures—no sign of intelligent life.”

The telescope they used was looking for radio waves within 98 and 128 MHz. This “narrow band” frequency was chosen as they would be most likely to be in the range of intelligent life transmissions. This frequency was also chosen based on how the only intelligent life we know (humans) produce these radio waves.

Professor Tingay said that even though this MWA search was the largest so far, the null results are not surprising. He says, “As Douglas Adams noted in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘space is big, really big’. And even though this was a really big study, the amount of space we looked at was the equivalent of trying to find something in the Earth’s oceans but only searching a volume of water equivalent to a large backyard swimming pool.”

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He continues to explain that above that, there are still many other methods of search to be conducted. This is because we can’t search for alien life in the same way we detect human life as we really don’t know in what form alien life exists.

“Since we can’t really assume how possible alien civilizations might utilize technology, we need to search in many different ways. Using radio telescopes, we can explore an eight-dimensional search space,” he explains. “Although there is a long way to go in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, telescopes such as the MWA will continue to push the limits—we have to keep looking.”

The search for extraterrestrial life will soon be handed over from the MWA to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This telescope is much more advanced than its precursor, costing 1.7 billion Euros. The SKA will be present at the same location as the MWA but will be 50 times more sensitive than its predecessor.

“Due to the increased sensitivity, the SKA low-frequency telescope to be built in Western Australia will be capable of detecting Earth-like radio signals from relatively nearby planetary systems,” said Professor Tingay. “With the SKA, we’ll be able to survey billions of star systems, seeking technosignatures in an astronomical ocean of other worlds.”

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