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Telescope with eye only for aliens

Telescope with eye only for aliens

SAN JOSE, California -- A new telescope solely designed to search for messages from aliens will start scouring the skies early next year.

The 1.8 metre Optical SETI Telescope now being built in Harvard, Massachusetts, will look for messages from the stars written in pulses of laser light.

Years of SETI -- Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- projects aimed at listening out for radio signals have so far yielded nothing.

But some experts think researchers might be looking for the wrong kind of message. They believe a technologically advanced race might be more likely to communicate using pulsed laser beams rather than radio.

The new telescope will search for brief pulses of light, scanning the entire northern sky once every 200 clear nights.

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It will have a special camera fitted with an array of 1,024 ultra-fast detectors which can spot flashes of light as short as a billionth of a second.

Project leader Professor Paul Horowitz, of Harvard University, said: "Using only Earth 2001 technology, we could now generate a beamed laser pulse that appears 5,000 times brighter than our sun, as seen by a distant civilisation in the direction of its slender beam.

"In other words, interstellar laser communication is altogether practicable.

"The new Optical SETI Telescope will allow us to search the entire northern sky for such signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy."

Searching for laser pulse signals was first suggested by Nobel prize winning scientist Charles Townes, of the University of California at Berkeley.

Other optical SETI observations have been attempted, but the new telescope will be the most advanced and sensitive.

The Planetary Society, which is funding the project, made the announcement at a news conference in San Jose, California. The possibility that aliens from other worlds make visits to Earth has been the subject of speculation for years in films like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Scientists, in November 1990, at the University of Arizona developed a "language" for talking by radio to alien civilisations on distant planets.

Space agency NASA began to use a "super computer" in May, 1988, to try and pick up signals from any distant civilisations.

In October, 1989, a Russian news agency reported that scientists claimed to have established that a city in the former Soviet Union had been visited briefly by a spaceship crewed by three feet tall humanoids and a robot.

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SETI Institute Online
Lerwick Geomagnetic Observatory

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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