By Maryam Shah, Toronto Sun
First posted: Thursday, March 03, 2016 03:56 PM EST | Updated: Thursday, March 03, 2016 04:05 PM EST
TORONTO - Two astrophysicists from McMaster University want the search for alien life to focus on where E.T. would try to call us if he could.
Rene Heller and Ralph Pudritz’s paper, The Search for Extraterrestrial Life in Earth’s Solar Transit Zone (external - login to view), is quickly making global headlines.
They suggest we look at what potential outsiders can see about Earth from outer space, and then use that to search for them.
The Toronto Sun caught up with Pudritz for a phone conversation from Germany on Thursday:
Q: What exactly are you and Heller proposing?
Pudritz: “It all starts with the idea and the question of how do we find (extraterrestrial life)? People have been very successful hunting for planets around other stars. The most successful way we have of doing that is ... if a planet moves across the disk of a star, the light from that star will drop by a very small amount because it’s being blocked by the planet. That’s called a transit.
Now if you imagine ... seeing the Earth transiting, then the question is what observers in the galaxy would be able to see ... They won’t know there’s people on it of course, but they’ll know it’s habitable.”
Q: What do you suggest we do within Earth’s transit zone?
Pudritz: “By doing this calculation for the type of technology we have now, we estimate that there would be about 10,000 to 100,000 interesting target stars in this transit zone that could be looked at. That would take in itself an enormous amount of telescope time using our current technology. So this is a very ambitious project. It’s a rich area to examine that has not been looked at by any systematic survey. That’s what we’re saying: Look there, use current technology.”
Q: Is it possible we’re missing signals as we speak?
Pudritz: “It’s not even obvious, it’s not even clear that a civilization would necessarily want to transmit. There’s so many factors that we just do not know: How such civilizations would work, if they would transmit, etc. These are all questions we have absolutely no knowledge of and so in our paper, we just try to stay clear of those questions as there’s no way of really answering them.”
Q: Do you often wonder about possible forms of intelligent life out there?
Pudritz: “It’s a very human question. It’s maybe the ultimate question ... There’s two parts to it — is there life in the universe and is there intelligent life in the universe?
The very simple microbes? It would be very surprising if they didn’t show up because we’re learning more and more about them. But intelligence? That’s a million-dollar question.”
— Note: This interview has been condensed for space.
McMaster University astrophysicist Ralph Pudritz. (Supplied)
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