NUIG astronomer tuning radio telescopes to hunt for alien life

Galway Daily news NUIG astronomer tuning radio telescopes to hunt for alien life

An astronomer at NUI Galway is leading a new project looking into the future of how we can search for alien civilisation using radio telescopes.

Dr Evan Keane of NUIG’s Centre for Astronomy has received funding for a project to examine how the next generation Very Large Array radio telescope can be designed to identify signatures of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Radio telescopes are particularly well suited for identifying signatures of technology associated with life and advanced civilisation by hunting radio waves from deep space.

Radio waves can be transmitted and detected over greater distances than other forms of light, and can also be encoded with large bandwidths of information, an extremely useful technological property.

Currently in the design stages, the next generation Very Large Array will be the largest radio telescope in the Northern Hemisphere, consisting of hundreds of radio dishes, spread over 8,000 kilometres in North America working in tandem together.

The design of this array is still being debated and investigated worldwide, and Dr Keane job’s will be to look at how this array could maximise its ability to search for technosignatures of extra-terrestrial life, while also simultaneously performing all the other cutting edge astrophysics studies that the observatory will do.

Dr Keane’s work will include looking at how the dishes should be spaced, what frequency bands should be used, what search algorithms should be deployed and what supercomputing backend capabilities do these require

Dr Keane said: “I am very excited to be investigating how to tackle perhaps the most difficult challenge there is in science. These searches for technosignatures are also now happening on Irish soil too.”

Working with partners in Berkley University in the U.S., and others here in Ireland, a search system is being developed on the Irish Low Frequency Array station in Birr, Co. Offaly.

“This is a great opportunity for upcoming Irish scientists to tackle these questions at home,” Dr Keane said.