News / Science & Technology

    Scientists Renew Effort Looking for Intelligent Alien Life

    Scientists Renew Effort Looking for Intelligent Alien Lifei
    August 12, 2013 10:21 PM
    After the 1982 megahit "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," the search for alien intelligent life was much in focus. And although no evidence has yet been found, scientists are still watching and listening to deep space. Now, as VOA's George Putic tells us, recent technological advances are giving them additional hope.
    George Putic
    After the 1982 megahit E.T. the Extraterrestrial, the search for alien intelligent life was much in focus. And although no evidence has yet been found, scientists are still watching and listening to deep space.  Now, recent technological advances are giving them additional hope.

    The search for extraterrestrials is being done with telescopic "eyes" and "ears".

    Michael Liu, an astronomy professor at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu, uses an optical telescope to look for planets orbiting distant stars.  

    Liu says until recently, earth-bound telescopes could not provide extremely sharp images of distant stars because of the refraction of light passing through earth's atmosphere.  But that has changed.

    "One of the technological advances that has happened in the last 15 years is that telescopes are now equipped with technology known as adaptive optics, that essentially allows you a way to measure in real time the trembling of the earth’s atmosphere and correct for those images," Liu said.

    Liu says the images of stars are now more than 10 times sharper than before.

    Scientists can not actually see distant planets. Instead they calculate their presence by measuring their gravitational pull at their stars. It is also possible to detect heat emitted by very young planets that provides clues to their physical properties, like how big they are, how much energy they put out, even the materials they are made of.

    "Every piece of evidence we’ve found today suggest that planetary systems, planets around the stars, are common," said astronomer Liu. "And we’re getting ever and ever closer -- not quite yet, but we’re getting very close to finding planets just like our earth, around stars just like our sun.  And that almost seems inevitable."

    Other scientists are using radio telescopes -- huge dish antennas or antenna arrays -- listening to radio emissions from deep space.

    Dr. Alan Penny, an astronomy professor at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, is chairman of the United Kingdom's Search for Extraterrestrials group (UKSETI), which plans to connect all radio telescopes in Britain into a huge network in search of intelligent alien life.

    Penny says noise and natural signals from stars and quasars are chaotic, while signals from intelligent life must have a structure.  

    "There’s no natural source, there’s no star or quasar that can do it. So when you take your picture of the sky and you look at the colors, the equivalent of the colors, if there is one sharp band -- that must be artificial, which means it must be intelligence."

    But the sky is enormous. Where exactly will the astronomers look for extraterrestrial life?

    Perhaps they’re like us and they live on other planets and they emit strong radio waves, then you point your telescopes at nearby stars which you know have planets, and just within the last 10 years we’ve been detecting planets around nearby stars," Penny said.

    Penny says funding for the search will be provided by private grants and he expects the UKSETI network to be fully operational in about two years. In the meantime, other scientists keep looking for extraterrestrial life because, they say, the chances are high that we are not alone.

    You May Like

    US, Allies Discuss Next Steps in Islamic State Fight

    Meeting comes a day after US Navy SEAL was killed while fighting Islamic State forces in northern Iraq

    In China, Traditional Banks Fight Challenge From Internet Firms

    Internet companies lent more than $150 billion to customers in 2015, which is an extremely small amount compared to the much larger lending by commercial banks last year

    Trump Faces Tough Presidential Odds Against Clinton

    Numerous national election surveys show former secretary of state defeating presumptive Republican nominee with tough talk to halt illegal immigration and temporarily block Muslims from entering country

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora