Scientists develop new ellipsoid technique to search extraterrestrial signals

Credit: Zayna Sheikh

In an exciting leap forward for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), a collaborative team from the SETI Institute, Berkeley SETI Research Center, and the University of Washington has utilized data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to pioneer a novel method in the hunt for signals from advanced civilizations in the cosmos.

This method, known as the SETI Ellipsoid, strategically selects potential technosignature candidates by hypothesizing that extraterrestrial civilizations might use significant galactic events, like supernovae, as beacons to broadcast synchronized signals across the universe.

The SETI Ellipsoid approach takes advantage of continuous, wide-field sky surveys, dramatically improving our chances of detecting potential signals from other worlds.

By accounting for uncertainties in the estimated time-of-arrival of these signals—spanning observations up to a year—the method enables a more effective search strategy utilizing cutting-edge technology.

“New surveys of the sky provide groundbreaking opportunities to search for technosignatures coordinated with supernovae,” explains co-author Bárbara Cabrales.

This approach requires meticulous documentation of targets over about a year to differentiate between normal celestial behavior and potential technosignatures.

Through their analysis of TESS data, covering 5% of all observations from the mission’s first three years, the team, with the aid of advanced 3D location data from Gaia Early Data Release 3, identified 32 prime targets within the SETI Ellipsoid in the southern TESS continuous viewing zone. These targets have uncertainties refined to better than 0.5 light-years.

Although the initial review of TESS light curves during the Ellipsoid crossing events did not unveil anomalies, this research lays a crucial foundation for extending the search to other surveys, a wider selection of targets, and the exploration of diverse potential signal types.

The integration of the SETI Ellipsoid technique and Gaia’s precise distance measurements heralds a significant advancement in the search for technosignatures, enhancing the monitoring and anomaly detection capabilities in SETI research.

This methodology offers a powerful and flexible framework for future SETI explorations, allowing researchers to retrospectively examine archival data for potential signals, proactively select targets, and plan future monitoring efforts.

“As Dr. Jill Tarter often emphasizes, SETI searches are akin to looking for a needle in a 9-D haystack. Any technique that aids us in narrowing down where to look, such as the SETI Ellipsoid, can potentially lead us to the most promising sections of the haystack,” said co-author Dr. Sofia Sheikh.

This pioneering work sets a promising precedent for upcoming large survey projects like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), marking an exciting development in the ongoing quest to discover intelligent life beyond Earth.

The findings are detailed in The Astronomical Journal, showcasing the innovative strides being made in the field of astrophysics and SETI research.

The research findings can be found in The Astronomical Journal.

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