Some alien civilizations can be so advanced that they can manipulate lights from the stars. By doing so, these beings can send signals across the Universe.
This means that there could alien messages concealed in the stars. We could find them if we only knew how and where to look.
This is what Lucianne Walkowicz, a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics based at Princeton University is suggesting.
Instead of listening to radio transmissions, we should check for unusual patterns of variability. This can be done with help of various software algorithms,
Walkowicz points out.
Thanks to a program titled
"New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology," funded by the John Templeton foundation and administered by the University of Chicago,
Walkowicz is getting her chance to look for alien messages in the stars.
Cutting-edge research is what this program is all about, and the question "Are We Alone in the Universe?" is one of the major areas it aims to address.
The odds of a discovery with Walkowicz's project may be long, but the search technique is quite straightforward.
"Our premise," she says, "is that up until now, we've had a preconceived idea of what a SETI signal would look like."
It would basically be the sort of signal we know how to create, and understandably so, since searching for a signal from some entirely unknown technology would
be kind of difficult.
If aliens were so advanced that they could cause their star to appear to flicker, however, it wouldn't matter how they did it, and it would be easy enough to
see with existing technology.
In fact, says Walkowicz, "our premise was, 'what if we've already detected a signal but missed it because of our preconceptions.'"
The star cluster NGC 3603 lights up a nebula 20,000 light-years from Earth, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA / ESA / U.Va. / NIA / USRA / NASA Ames
"We'll get all sorts of things we understand," she says, "but we'll also be looking for things that aren't matched by well-known physical processes."
Walkowicz and her team will try to explain all unusual variations with conventional physics, but it science fails to find a suitable explanation, one is
forced to consider the possibility that it really is ET calling.
Perhaps E.T. is calling. We cannot dismiss the possibility.
"What would lead us to say it really is an alien signal?" she asks. "I don't know, but in my book, finding things you can't explain is interesting no matter
what it is. If we see 'SOS, send water,' in Morse code, that would be great."
There will probably be a bit more ambiguity than that, she admits, and we may never know for certain that we're seeing a deliberate signal.
"You don't want to invoke the strangest thing first," says Walkowicz, "but we should think a little bit more outlandishly. If we're always succeeding all the
time, maybe we're not trying hard enough."
To many people silence is maddening. Not just because it compounds our feeling of cosmic isolation, but because it makes no sense. The Universe is big that we
cannot be the only intelligent species. They must be out there, many people say.
Perhaps Walkowicz 's approach will finally get us all closer to the truth….