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86 planets to be searched for aliens

Astronomers are aiming a radio telescope to detect signals of alien life on 86 possible Earth-like planets. The search began on Saturday, May 8, when the largest steerable radio telescope dedicated...

india Updated: May 14, 2011 13:04 IST

Astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley are aiming a radio telescope to detect signals of alien life on 86 possible Earth-like planets.

The search began on Saturday, May 8, when the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope - the largest steerable radio telescope in the world – dedicated an hour to eight stars with possible planets.

The colossal dish will gather 24 hours of data on each of the planets, which have been selected from a list of 1,235 planets identified by NASA's Kepler space telescope

“It’s not absolutely certain that all of these stars have habitable planetary systems, but they’re very good places to look for ET,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Andrew Siemion.

The Green Bank telescope will stare for about five minutes at stars in the Kepler survey that have a candidate planet in the star’s habitable zone - that is, the planet has a surface temperature at which liquid water could be maintained.

“We’ve picked out the planets with nice temperatures - between zero and 100 degrees Celsius - because they are a lot more likely to harbor life,” said physicist Dan Werthimer.

After the Green Bank telescope has targeted each star, it will scan the entire Kepler field for signals from planets other than the 86 targets.

The complete analysis for intelligent signals could take a year, Werthimer said.

“If you extrapolate from the Kepler data, there could be 50 billion planets in the galaxy,” he said.

“It’s really exciting to be able to look at this first batch of Earth-like planets,” he added.