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A transcontinental search for ET

world Updated: Nov 09, 2010 00:37 IST

The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence went global this weekend as observatories in 13 nations on five continents trained their telescopes on several promising star systems.

While they don't expect their one-day joint effort will find the signals from afar that enthusiasts have been seeking for decades, participants say the undertaking illustrates just how far the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, has come.

Frank Drake made the world's first such observations at the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia 50 years ago, listening on a single-channel receiver that took in radio waves a frequency at a time. Today’s technology allows scientists to receive radio signals at millions of different frequencies per minute.

“This is a real coming of age for ... for SETI,” said Drake. “We made predictions based on weak evidence 50 years ago and now a lot of that is, very satisfyingly, getting hard scientific support.”

Suddenly, the prospects for finding planets that might have complex life and environments to support it appear to have brightened. Scientists well in the future may still conclude Earth is the only planet that harbours life, but discoveries in the last few years seem to increase the odds that we are not alone.

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