SCiEn TiSTS HAVE SEARCHED FOR SignAlS
FROm in TERSTEllAR CiVilizATiOnS FOR
THE PAS T 30 yEARS. SO FAR, SilEnCE.
They’ve listened for radio waves and looked for light,
but extraterrestrial intelligence could still send
messages on a more efficient channel: infrared light.
The infrared spectrum shines through the dust
and gas that fills interstellar space. Pulses from an
infrared laser could even outshine a star, if only for
a billionth of a second. However, detectors capable
of capturing flickering light at such minuscule
intervals have only recently been developed.
Astronomer Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of
physics at UC San Diego, has waited eight years for
this technology to emerge. She now leads a team that
has developed an instrument to record nanosecond
pulses of infrared light, which was deployed this
spring at University of California’s Lick Observatory.
The project, called NIROSETI, or near-infrared optical
search for extraterrestrial intelligence, will extend the
search to stars thousands of light years away, rather than
hundreds. As it’s the first time anyone has looked for
infrared pulses at nanosecond time scales, the search
could reveal new astrophysical phenomena—
or answer the question of whether we are really alone.
In the search for extraterrestrial life, a new method
of communication reaches light years beyond.
B Y SuSAN BRO WN
Astronomers Shelley Wright, Frank Drake
and Remington Stone flank the Anna B.
Nickel telescope at Lick Observatory.
Photo: Laurie Hatch