The project is called the Trillion Planet Survey and is being run by the University of California.
The idea is that if there is an extraterrestrial civilization that purposely sends signals, it may be possible to identify it.
The team is looking for transmissions from a civilization of “a similar or higher class to ours trying to transmit its presence using beams of light,” said Andrew Stewart of Emory University. This is known as Optical SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).
Based on a paper by Philip Lubin, who leads the new project, the team is pursuing the idea that there are other civilizations that don’t know we’re here, but may be trying to make contact.
Through photonics (the science of generation, emission, transmission, modulation, processing, amplification and detection of light) it would be possible to create a brilliant light that could be seen throughout the universe.
The team is now searching the Andromeda Galaxy for such a light.
Using a series of images taken by telescopes, astronomers will create a single image of the galaxy and compare it to other control images looking for “transient signals,” which are events that operate over relatively short time intervals measured in years or less.
If there is a difference between the research photo and the control photo, it could mean that some type of signal is being transmitted.
Since Andromeda is 2.5 million light-years away, any signal we detect will have been sent at least 2.5 million years ago, long enough for a civilization to have disappeared, but the team notes it’s worth looking for, even if the chances of success are low.
“After all, we look for archaeological relics and fossils, which tell us about the Earth’s past history. Finding ancient signals will certainly give us information about the history of the evolution of life in space, and that would be incredible,” said team member Jatila van der Veen.
The team presented their research at NASA’s Technosignatures workshop in Houston. This is the same workshop where NASA also discussed the possibility of returning to the search for intelligent alien life, something they have not done since 1993.