Magnified laser from Earth could attract alien attention, MIT researcher says

Olive Hawkins
November 9, 2018

Rather, it was the basis of a "feasibility study" conducted by MIT graduate student James Clark, which found that by using existing and imminent technology, humans could, in principle, fashion a laser and a telescope into a beacon that would send out a powerful blast of radiation showing aliens that we are, in fact, here, Clark said.

To create such a powerful signal, he toyed with different combinations of telescopes and megawatt lasers.

"This would be a challenging project but not an impossible one".

Firing a megawatt laser into space with the goal of attracting alien attention is technologically feasible, according to a new MIT study. The signal should be easy to detect from as far away as 20,000 light years.

In order to produce an infrared beam that stands out from the sun, Clark estimates that it would need to be about 10 times stronger than the sun's natural infrared emissions. According to his calculations, aiming a 2-megawatt laser through a 30-meter telescope would create an SOS that could easily be seen by astronomers on Proxima Centauri b, which orbits the closest star to Earth at just four light-years away.

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"If we were to successfully close a handshake and start to communicate, we could flash a message, at a data rate of about a few hundred bits per second, which would get there in just a few years", Clark added in the statement. However, Clark points out, that could soon change: The Extremely Large Telescope is now under construction by the European Space Organization, with its projected size of 39 meters in diameter. He compares it to the Air Force's Airborne Laser program, known as the YAL-1, a prototype from the Reagan era which consisted of a 747 with a giant laser grafted onto the nose, meant to shoot down ballistic missiles. Such a beam would produce a flux density of about 800 watts of power per square meter, which is approaching that of the sun, which generates about 1,300 watts per square meter. It could also potentially scramble any camera aboard a spacecraft that happens to pass through it.

On the other hand, they are aware that the probability of establishing a contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence is small, but does encourage researchers in SETI projects (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), to support the development of the laser technology with the aim that one day we can squeeze a hand grip to aliens, hidden somewhere above our heads! A safer location than Earth would be on the far side of the moon.

"It is vanishingly unlikely that a telescope survey would actually observe an extraterrestrial laser, unless we restrict our survey to the very nearest stars", Clark says.

The study suggests the light from a laser could spark interest from extraterrestrials- if they exist.

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