High-powered lasers could send bat signal to alien astronomers

Scientists Want to Use Lasers to Guide Aliens to Earth. What Could Go Wrong

If extraterrestrial intelligence exists somewhere in our galaxy, a new MIT study proposes that laser technology on Earth could, in principle, be fashioned into something of a planetary porch light - a beacon strong enough to attract attention from as far as 20,000 light years away. The scientists explain thata laser focused in a telescope of 30 to 45 metres directed in space would be capable of producing an infrared radiation, powerful and able to differentiate itself from the solar energy.

The signal could be seen as far away as TRAPPIST-1, a star 40 light-years from Earth, and is known to host seven exoplanets, three of which are potentially habitable. Scientists could then pulse the laser in order to send a message to aliens that may have spotted us.

"We can't put as much power as the sun produces into a laser - that's just not practical - but a laser produces all of its power in one wavelength, a very narrow part of the spectrum, so the way that it's detectable is not that it's more powerful than the sun, but that it's very distinct from the sun", Clark said.

A message sent in this manner would have a data rate of a few hundred bits per second and could arrive at the distant planet in a few years. According to Clark, the proposed laser's power is equivalent to that of the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser, a now-retired mechanism created to shoot ballistic missiles out of the sky - a far cry from your everyday laser.

This would create a beacon that can be distinguished from the light of the sun and can be detected by alien astronomers from a neighboring star system that might also be looking for signs of life in the universe. A telescope of that size does not now exist but there are plans to build one in Chile.

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He says the lasers needed for the project have already been invented, but they still need a large enough telescope.

Such a powerful beam could also present a few safety and technology problems for any biological or digital eyes that happen to look directly at it. Clark says the beam wouldn't be visible but could still conceivably damage people's vision inadvertently and could scramble cameras aboard orbiting spacecraft that pass through it. "In general, this was a feasibility study".

"Should we be attracting extraterrestrial attention?"

"Such a signal could be detectable by alien astronomers performing a cursory survey of our section of the Milky Way", according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research team. "This would be a challenging project but not an impossible one, ' James Clark, author of the study, said in a statement".

"With current survey methods and instruments, it is unlikely that we would actually be lucky enough to image a beacon flash, assuming that extraterrestrials exist and are making them", Clark says.

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