Most UK adults don't know the name of our galaxy, a survey suggests
Most UK adults don't know the name of our galaxy, a survey suggests

Project to find aliens launches huge 'catalogue' of objects in bid to discover intelligent life

Files aim to include 'one of everything' in the observed universe

Andrew Griffin@_andrew_griffin
Tuesday 23 June 2020 11:20
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Scientists searching for aliens have released a catalogue of objects found in space that they hope could locate intelligent life.

The list of objects, or "Exotica", aims to include one of every kind of object in the known universe, in the hope that they can be studied by astronomers who are looking for indications of the kind of technology that could indicate extraterrestrial intelligence.

It has been assembled by Breakthrough Listen, the project backed by scientists including Stephen Hawking and funded by Yuri Milner, an Israeli-Russian billionaire who is hoping to find proof of alien life. It has used its funding to increase the search for radio signals coming from space, as well as developing new technologies to improve that search.

Despite that work, astronomers have found no confirmed technosignature that could indicate there is alien life elsewhere. That could suggest that there is no other civilisation to be found, but it could also mean that astronomers have not looked through all of the possible targets that could serve as home to extraterrestrials.

Until now, astronomers have largely focused on looking for other forms of life that resemble ours, in places similar to the conditions that gave rise to life on Earth. But the catalogue could allow researchers to consider that there could be other kinds of environments that could give rise to technology that we may be able to discover from Earth, the researchers hope.

“Many discoveries in astronomy were not planned,” said the lead author of the new paper, Dr. Brian Lacki. “Sometimes a major new discovery was missed when nobody was looking in the right place, because they believed nothing could be found there.

"This happened with exoplanets, which might have been detected before the 1990s if astronomers looked for solar systems very different than ours. Are we looking in the wrong places for technosignatures? The Exotica catalog will help us answer that question.”

The catalogue includes everything from the most mundane objects to very rare and violent phenomena. Astronomers hope that can be used to more precisely understand what habitats could support alien life, as well as giving more information on whether those objects might appear natural but are in fact artificial.

“When it comes to the search for intelligent life, it’s vital to have an open mind,” said S Pete Worden, executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. “Until we understand more about the forms another civilization and its technology could take, we should investigate all plausible targets. Cataloging them is the first step toward that goal.”

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