2080 SETI: At Optical Wavelengths

Sunday, February 21, 2010: 9:10 AM
Room 11B (San Diego Convention Center)
Paul Horowitz , Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Electromagnetic radiation appears to be the favored medium for intentional communication over interstellar distances, an argument made originally by Cocconi and Morrison in their historic 1959 paper in Nature (which pointed to the centimetric microwave band, and particularly to the 21cm wavelength of neutral hydrogen, the most abundant photon in the universe), and independently pursued by Drake in his pioneering search in 1960.  That golden year initiated the modern era of SETI.
But there's plenty of other spectrum, most notably in the millimetric and infrared. The argument in favor of these shorter wavelengths was made most cogently in the Townes paper of 1983 in PNAS, which pointed out that "the infrared is as good as, and may be a more favorable region for SETI than, the microwave region on the basis of reasonable assumptions." And a recent paper speculates upon an efficient variation, namely that an advanced civilization might take advantage of natural stellar sources, thus merely providing the power needed for its modulation.
In this talk I'll summarize these optical alternatives to microwave SETI, describe current and planned searches, and show a few creatures from the zoo of unidentified shouts in the dark.
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