‘Planetary torch’: Earth’s laser tech could be used to lure alien communications

MIT says existing laser tech could attract alien astronomers

As part of a project for one of MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics classes, graduate student James Clark wanted to see if we could make ourselves visible to aliens as they hunt for nearby life. "I don't know if intelligent creatures around the sun would be their first guess, but it would certainly attract further attention", said Clark in a press release.

"It is vanishingly unlikely that a telescope survey would actually observe an extraterrestrial laser unless we restrict our survey to the very nearest stars", he added.

"The kinds of lasers and telescopes that are being built today can produce a detectable signal, so that an astronomer could take one look at our star and immediately see something unusual about its spectrum", Clark said.

Now, a team of scientists from MIT has put forth a new idea about making contact, and it involves laser technology currently available on our own planet. Its target would be areas like Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth, and TRAPPIST-1, a star around 40 light-years away with seven exoplanets in orbit.

By modulating the intensity of the light, we could exchange simple messages in binary with a data rate of a few hundred bits per second.

- The infrared signal produced would be more than 10 times the infrared emissions from the sun. According to his calculations, a 2-megawatt laser paired with a 30-meter telescope would do the trick, as would a 1-megawatt laser paired with a 45-meter telescope. That combination would create a beam of IR radiation strong enough to stand out from the sun's energy. Either setup, he estimated, could produce a generally detectable signal from up to 20,000 light-years away. He compares it to the Air Force's Airborne Laser program, known as the YAL-1, a prototype from the Reagan era which consisted of a 747 with a giant laser grafted onto the nose, meant to shoot down ballistic missiles. However, Clark points out, that could soon change: The Extremely Large Telescope is now under construction by the European Space Organization, with its projected size of 39 meters in diameter.

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And despite the beam being invisible to the naked eye, it would still emit 800 watts of power per square meter, which could cause vision damage if it's looked at directly.

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

Clark says that if the tables were turned, we would be able to detect a signal sent from nearby stars but only if our telescopes were pointed directly towards the source, which would take an vast amount of luck.

"Should we be attracting extraterrestrial attention?"

The study suggests the light from a laser could spark interest from extraterrestrials- if they exist.

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