Scientists have developed new software, based on a Fast Folding Algorithm (FFA), which could enable the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) within our cosmic neighbourhood. The Breakthrough Listen Investigation for Periodic Spectral Signals, known as BLIPSS, led by Akshay Suresh, is at the forefront of this pioneering research.
The FFA is a search method that can detect repeating patterns in signals, potentially indicating the presence of extraterrestrial technology in the densely populated central region of the Milky Way. This collaborative effort between Cornell, the SETI Institute, and Breakthrough Listen aims to capture evidence of extraterrestrial technology by focusing on the central region of the Milky Way. That region is renowned for its dense concentration of stars and potentially habitable exoplanets, making it the ideal place where aliens may position a beacon to contact large parts of the galaxy. Pulsars are astrophysical objects that generate periodic signals, which can be detected by the software. Moreover, humans also use directed periodic transmissions, such as radar signals. These signals could be an effective means of communication across interstellar space, standing out from the background of non-periodic signals while using much less energy than a transmitter that broadcasts continuously.
"BLIPSS is an example of cutting-edge software as a science multiplier for SETI," said Suresh. Their open-source software can crunch over 1.5 million time series for periodic signals in roughly 30 minutes, making it a valuable tool in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The project has tested their algorithm on known pulsars, proving they can detect periodic emission as expected. BLIPSS looked for repeating signals in a narrower range of frequencies, covering only less than one-tenth of the width of an average FM radio station. "The combination of these relatively narrow bandwidths with periodic patterns could be indicative of deliberate technological activities of intelligent civilizations," said co-author Steve Croft, Breakthrough Listen project scientist.
The study illuminates how a train of pulses could be remarkably energy efficient as a means of interstellar communication across vast distances, shedding light on the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. This marks the first-ever comprehensive endeavor to conduct in-depth searches for these signals. In essence, BLIPSS's efforts could bring us closer to discovering whether or not we are alone in the universe. It is a significant step that opens new avenues for research into the extraterrestrial world.