Ana Milena Male |
Los Angeles (USA), (EFE) , that with only a computer or a smartphone can help, Jean-Luc Margot, project leader, told EFE.
Professor of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences, Margot’s team analyzes radio signals to distinguish between those coming from local sources, such as telecommunication systems or radar, and those of extraterrestrial origin.
And of those originating in deep space, it seeks to discern between those caused by natural phenomena such as quasars and supernovae, and those that could have been generated by technical means. Astronomers call the latter “technological signatures.”
“Essentially we’re looking for other engineers out there in the galaxy,” Margot stated.
The project is based on radio waves because, according to the academic, “it is very easy to generate them, they spread at the speed of light and the universe is very transparent to them, which makes them very good for communication” on a spatial scale.
Since 2016 the UCLA team has used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, to capture emissions from stars and planetary systems. “We have probed about 41,000 stars and detected about 64 million signals,” said the researcher.
Of the signals received, approximately 99.8% are classified by the project’s computer system as human-induced radio interference, still leaving hundreds of thousands of the most promising signals for human scrutiny.
But a new tool the team is developing with help from the public aims to streamline the search. The UCLA SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program called on February 14 for anyone who wishes to help classify the signals. For this you only need a computer or a smartphone.
After watching a short tutorial on the Zooniversee research platform page, volunteers are asked to examine radio wave images and answer simple questions, such as whether they are oriented vertically or horizontally.
They must then choose from a set of illustrations of common types of radio interference the one that best corresponds to the signal they analyzed.
With this, the researchers seek to generate artificial intelligence algorithms (sets of precise instructions) that discriminate signals more efficiently.
“The artificial intelligence tool that we are building with the help of citizen scientists will automatically recognize and eliminate the most persistent kinds of interference, and it will speed up our search because we can focus on the most interesting signals,” Margot told EFE.
For the professor, this partnership can anchor the conversation about life beyond Earth in science and away from fantasy. “We hope that our platform offers a taste of the scientific method to our volunteers. The scientific method is a powerful engine for abandoning myths and discovering truths about nature,” he noted.
He said he was “excited by the amazing response from the public” and specified that of the 236 examiners in the previous stage, who completed 5,000 classifications, since the start of the citizen collaboration initiative “thousands of volunteers have delivered 200,000 classifications.”
He added that he still hopes that more people from the public will join this mission.
The professor said he was not discouraged by the fact that no evidence of life outside our planet has been found so far.
“The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We haven’t searched for very long, so it’s not surprising that we haven’t found anything yet. The search volume is vast, but our capabilities and algorithms keep getting better every day, and I’m excited about this search,” he confessed.
Regarding intelligent life, he pointed out that the probability that an extraterrestrial civilization would develop its potential interstellar communication at the same time as humans (in the last decades with the development of radio astronomy) “is practically zero”, given the 14,000 million years of the universe
Therefore, he asserted that “it is almost certain that another civilization evolved at a different time, which means that they are more advanced than we are by thousands or millions of years.”
“We have the potential to make contact with a much more advanced civilization. Imagine what we could learn, the benefits to science, engineering, medicine, the arts, philosophy,” she said.