SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has already begun listening to the newly discovered TRAPPIST-1 star system for signs of alien life.
The SETI Institute used its Allen Telescope Array last year to observe the environs of Trappist 1, scanning through ten billion radio channels in search of signals. No transmissions were detected, although new observations are in the offing.
How sensitive was this search? Assuming that the putative inhabitants of this solar system can use a transmitting antenna as large as the 500 meter FAST radio telescope in China to beam their messages our way, then the Allen Array could have found a signal if the aliens use a transmitter with 100 kilowatts of power or more. This is only about ten times as energetic as the radar down at your local airport.
TRAPPIST-1 is a remarkable candidate for life, the discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
The SETI search at TRAPPIST-1 has just begun, and is sure to continue for years to come.
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