The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in Earth's Solar Transit Zone Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Over the past few years, astronomers have detected thousands of planets and candidate planets by observing their periodic transits in front of their host stars. A related method, called transit spectroscopy, might soon allow studies of the chemical imprints of life in extrasolar planetary atmospheres. Here, we address the reciprocal question, namely, from where is Earth detectable by extrasolar observers using similar methods. We explore Earth's transit zone (ETZ), the projection of a band around Earth's ecliptic onto the celestial plane, where observers can detect Earth transits across the Sun. ETZ is between 0.520° and 0.537° wide due to the noncircular Earth orbit. The restricted Earth transit zone (rETZ), where Earth transits the Sun less than 0.5 solar radii from its center, is about 0.262° wide. We first compile a target list of 45 K and 37 G dwarf stars inside the rETZ and within 1 kpc (about 3260 light-years) using the Hipparcos catalogue. We then greatly enlarge the number of potential targets by constructing an analytic galactic disk model and find that about 10(5) K and G dwarf stars should reside within the rETZ. The ongoing Gaia space mission can potentially discover all G dwarfs among them (several 10(4)) within the next 5 years. Many more potentially habitable planets orbit dim, unknown M stars in ETZ and other stars that traversed ETZ thousands of years ago. If any of these planets host intelligent observers, they could have identified Earth as a habitable, or even as a living, world long ago, and we could be receiving their broadcasts today. The K2 mission, the Allen Telescope Array, the upcoming Square Kilometer Array, or the Green Bank Telescope might detect such deliberate extraterrestrial messages. Ultimately, ETZ would be an ideal region to be monitored by the Breakthrough Listen Initiatives, an upcoming survey that will constitute the most comprehensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence so far.

publication date

  • April 2016