Do aliens exist? A NASA grant enables Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank to search for traces of advanced technology on exoplanets.
In 1995 a pair of scientists discovered a planet outside our solar system orbiting a solar-type star. Since that finding—which won the scientists a portion of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics—researched have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets, including some Earth-like planets that may have the potential to harbor life. These planets may be the key to answering the question, do aliens exist?
In order to detect if planets are harboring life, however, scientists must first determine what features indicate that life is (or once was) present.
Over the last decade, astronomers have expended great effort trying to find what traces of simple forms of life—known as “biosignatures”—might exist elsewhere in the universe. But what if an alien planet hosted intelligent life that built a technological civilization? Could there be “technosignatures” that a civilization on another world would create that could be seen from Earth? And, could these technosignatures be even easier to detect than biosignatures?
Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, has received a grant from NASA that will enable him to begin to answer these questions. The grant will fund his study of technosignatures—detectable signs of past or present technology used on other planets. This is the first NASA non-radio technosignature grant ever awarded and represents an exciting new direction for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The grant will allow Frank, along with collaborators Jacob-Haqq Misra from the international nonprofit organization Blue Marble Space, Manasvi Lingam from the Florida Institute of Technology, Avi Loeb from Harvard University, and Jason Wright from Pennsylvania State University, to produce the first entries in an online technosignature library.