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A new era in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

January 4, 2021
Image of planet against black.Renewed interest from NASA and privately funded enterprises, the discovery of exoplanets, and the creation of advanced technology and new search methods are among the reasons the search for extraterrestrial life "may finally escape the giggle factor," writes University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank in the Washington Post. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

The search for extraterrestrial life began more than 60 years ago, but “there was never sufficient funding or telescope time available to make a dent in the effort,” writes astrophysicist Adam Frank, the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester, in a piece in the Washington Post. “The reason we have not found life elsewhere in the universe is simple: We haven’t really looked.”

Now, however, a “new era of growth” is dawning.

The rejuvenated search for extraterrestrial intelligence is based on several factors, according to Frank: renewed interest from NASA and privately funded enterprises, the discovery of exoplanets, and the creation of advanced technology and new search methods allowing researchers to detect biosignatures and technosignatures that indicate the presence of life. 

“If the trend continues, the search for intelligence in the universe may finally escape the giggle-factor that for so long left it associated with bad sci-fi shows and generic UFO nuttiness,” Frank writes. 

Frank’s research is in the general area of theoretical astrophysics, and in particular, the hydrodynamic and magneto-hydrodynamic evolution of matter ejected from stars. He and his colleagues were recently awarded NASA’s first-ever research grant to study atmospheric technosignatures. A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank has also been awarded several prestigious honors for his efforts to communicate about science. His most recent book, Light of the Stars (W.W. Norton, 2018) was awarded the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Award for Science.

Read the full article online.

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Category: Voices & Opinion