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Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe. Imagine if another civilization did the same. Photonics advances allow us to be seen across the universe, with major implications for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says UC Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin. “But suppose there is a civilization like ours and suppose — unlike us, who are skittish about broadcasting our presence — they think it’s important to be a beacon, an interstellar or extragalactic lighthouse of sorts,” he added. “There is a photonics revolution going on on Earth that enables this specific kind of transmission of information via visible or near-infrared light of high intensity."
The same directed energy technology is at the core of Lubin’s recent efforts to develop miniscule, laser-powered interstellar spacecraft. That work, funded since 2015 by NASA (and just selected by the space agency for “Phase II” support) is the technology behind billionaire Yuri Milner’s newsmaking, $100-million Breakthrough Starshot initiative announced April 12. Lubin is a scientific advisor on Starshot, which is using his NASA research as a roadmap as it seeks to send tiny spacecraft to nearby star systems. In describing directed energy, Lubin likened the process to using the force of water from a garden hose to push a ball forward. Using a laser light, spacecraft can be pushed and steered in much the same way. Applied to SETI, he said, the directed energy system could be deployed to send a targeted signal to other planetary systems. “In our paper, we propose a search strategy that will observe nearly 100 billion planets, allowing us to test our hypothesis that other similarly or more advanced civilizations with this same broadcast capability exist,” Lubin said.
Looking up at the night sky — expansive and seemingly endless, stars and constellations blinking and glimmering like jewels just out of reach — it’s impossible not to wonder: Are we alone? For many of us, the notion of intelligent life on other planets is as captivating as ideas come. Maybe in some other star system, maybe a billion light years away, there’s a civilization like ours asking the exact same question. The technology now exists to enable exactly that scenario, according to Lubin, whose new work applies his research and advances in directed-energy systems to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). His recent paper “The Search for Directed Intelligence” appears in the journal REACH – Reviews in Human Space Exploration.
We propose a search for sources of directed energy systems such as those now becoming technologically feasible on Earth. Recent advances in our own abilities allow us to foresee our own capability that will radically changes our ability to broadcast our presence. We show that systems of this type have the ability to be detected at vast distances and indeed can be detected across the entire horizon. This profoundly changes the possibilities for searches for extra-terrestrial technology advanced civilizations. We show that even modest searches can be extremely effective at detecting or limiting many civilization classes. We propose a search strategy that will observe more than 1012 stellar and planetary systems with possible extensions to more than 1020 systems allowing us to test the hypothesis that other similarly or more advanced civilization with this same capability, and are broadcasting, exist.