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SKA will go on the hunt for alien life


The network of world’s largest radio telescopes might be able to find even weaker signals than those that the man is able to detect now.
When we think of alien life on other planets all we expect is greenish men descending from a spaceship with strange threatening laser guns. In fact, the researchers involved in the project SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial) and in other similar link research to find – one day hopefully not too distant- evidence of microbial life on other lands and beyond. The building blocks of life could be also on comets (Rosetta and Philae will tell us more about), or nebulae in interstellar space. For now everything is still shrouded in mystery, but in a few years the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) will be the right tool for researchers. It is the largest network of radio telescopes in the world that will see the first scientific results between 2020 and 2025.
Recently, an international team of experts has published on arXiv.org a study on how SKA will hunt the “aliens” using its different instruments (50 times more powerful than others used nowadays) and involving a number of experimental programs (not just SETI).

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Credit: ESA/NASA

The antennas that will be part of the different array of SKA (located between Australia and South Africa) will be able to detect even extremely faint radio signals from distant worlds, greatly extending the possibilities of traces of life forms. Astrobiologists SKA will use to search for amino acids, the building blocks of life (of which we are made even our land), on planets that are believed to be in the habitable zone of their system (an area around the parent star where water is at state liquid), based on their spectral “signatures” at specific frequencies.

So far it has been, among others, the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) to deal with the search for radio signals from alien worlds. This is a radio station that consists of a group of 42 antennas located more than 400 miles north of San Francisco but (also because the lack of funds and the economic crisis) will ensure more results. A substitute will be just the Square Kilometre Array.
The vast collection of SKA (1 km square), the very high sensitivity of the receivers and the amazing ability of super computers (the central computer will have the power of hundreds of millions of home PCs) allow us to take home amazing results. For example, the antennas in the average frequency that will be produced in Phase 1 will be able to pick up radio sources similar to those emitted by the most powerful ground radar (those of ballistic or air monitoring), or to calculate the equivalent radiated isotropically power (EIRP – Equivalent Isotropic Radiated Power) to 10 pc in less than 15 minutes.
Andrew Siemion, from Berkeley Seti Research Center, was keen to tell us that “SKA will also help us better understand the formation of planets and classify the chemical elements that make up planetary systems formation of new, important points for astrobiology.” The Square Kilometer Array, also “will help us to respond to a wide range of fundamental questions about the natural world. We will be able to study – said the scientist – the birth of the universe, to open new perspectives in our observation skills through gravitational radiation, map the structure of distant galaxies and potentially determine if we are not alone in the cosmos as beings intelligent. ”
He explained: “The research for extraterrestrial intelligence using the Square Kilometer Array will be conducted by analyzing the signal captured by radio telescopes: the goal is to capture evidence of electromagnetic emissions which, for all we know, they could have originated only with advanced technology. Natural emissions (produced by objects such as stars and planets) are dilated in time and frequency, but the technology can produce emissions from the facility very refined both in time and in frequency. We can use this property – he said – to distinguish the emission from natural and artificial. The researcher stated that there is, at least to date, “a way to directly detect forms of extraterrestrial intelligence and therefore we assume that if we detect an extraterrestrial advanced technology, an advanced form of life has been created.”
In the study, also signed by James Benford, Jin Cheng-Jin and others, is talking about the implications of this research astrobiological and astrophysical radio context SETI. Scientists speak in detail of the various experimental programs that can use SETI antennas, SKA1 already looking at possible improvements for Phase 2 of the project (from 2030 onwards). The sensitivity of the antennas to be built in Australia and South Africa will expand the volume of the galaxies to be examined being able to use a wider range of frequencies than the previous ones.
“SKA will provide a key opportunity to many scientists who will use the telescope at the same time for different purposes” – said Siemon. “In this way, we will be able to conduct experiments for the SETI nearly 24 hours on 24, seven days a week.” The identification of such extraterrestrial signals will change (if it happens) forever the perception of humanity in the universe.

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