It’s looking a little more likely that humanity might be all alone in the universe after a scan of 10 million stars found not a whisper of alien life.
A scan using a radio telescope in the Australian outback conducted a deep and broad search for alien communications at radio frequency.
Focusing on a patch of sky known to contain at least 10 million stars, the researchers used the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope to scan – and found nothing.
Dr Chenoa Tremblay, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said the telescope was searching for powerful radio emissions at frequencies similar to FM radio frequencies.
These possible emissions are known as ‘technosignatures’, Tremblay said.
“The MWA is a unique telescope, with an extraordinarily wide field-of-view that allows us to observe millions of stars simultaneously,” she said.
“We observed the sky around the constellation of Vela for 17 hours, looking more than 100 times broader and deeper than ever before.
“With this dataset we found no technosignatures – no sign of intelligent life.”
But Tremlay said alien-hunters shouldn’t give up hope.
“As Douglas Adams noted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Space is big, really big,’” she said.
“And even though this was a really big study, the amount of space we looked at was the equivalent of trying to find something in the Earth’s oceans but only searching a volume of water equivalent to a large backyard swimming pool.
“Since we can’t really assume how possible alien civilisations might utilise technology, we need to search in many different ways. Using radio telescopes, we can explore an eight-dimensional search space.
“Although there is a long way to go in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, telescopes such as the MWA will continue to push the limits – we have to keep looking.”
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The MWA is a precursor for the instrument that comes next, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a huge observatory with telescopes in Western Australia and South Africa.
The SKA is so-called because it forms one huge satellite dish built to watch stars billions of light years at a resolution never achieved before.
The area of the dish, spread over several continents, is a square kilometre.
The machine could detect signals from intelligent life forms 50 light years away, some researchers have suggested.
One of the telescope’s goals is to “see” back through time to the Big Bang.