US Comes Up With Laser ‘Porch Light’ to Attract Space Aliens

An artist’s concept of the TRAPPIST-1 system. | Credits NASA  JPL-Caltech

The research, which the authors dub a "feasibility study", was published in the The Astrophysical Journal on November 5.

A new research paper from an MIT graduate student suggests that humanity could theoretically build an infrared laser that could be both hot and bright enough to attract the attention of intelligent civilizations, if it was aimed at nearby exoplanets.

The researchers propose to create a "beacon" which will be visible at a distance 20 thousand light years.

According to the scientists, the laser beam would be observable from nearby systems, such as those in the vicinity of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth, or TRAPPIST-1, a celestial body at about 40 light-years away that houses seven exoplanets with three of which could be habitable.

However, the recent study aims for alien contact, and the scientists hope that extraterrestrials would notice such a powerful laser beam and that they would communicate with us using similar methods.

Clark says, 'If we were to successfully close a handshake and start to communicate, we could flash a message, at a data rate of about a few hundred bits per second, which would get there in just a few years'.

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It should be possible to build one, though. "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. In the conclusion of the study, the experts are optimistic because they highlight that "withthe technology and the facilities existing or to come over the next decade, humanity is capable of producing a signal detectable despite the presence of the Sun".

The goal of the laser-telescope rig is the creation of an energy beam, meant to stand out amid all of the excess noise in the solar system. Either setup, he estimated, could produce a generally detectable signal from up to 20,000 light-years away.

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

Clark envisions that, like these massive observatories, a laser beacon should be built atop a mountain, to minimize the amount of atmosphere the laser would have to penetrate before beaming out into space. Clark's plan for the telescope's safety is one straight out of Moonraker: put the laser on the Moon. While Earth now has the technology to create the beacon, the beam would produce 800 watts of power per square meter that would damage a person's vision. The beam could also potentially scramble any cameras aboard spacecraft that happen to pass through it.

'In general, this was a feasibility study.

"Whether or not this is a good idea, that's a discussion for future work", Clark said. There is legitimate concern that Earth's resources could be too tempting to resist, and that we might invite our own extinction by luring extraterrestrials to our neck of the woods.

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