Photonics advances allow Earth to be seen across the universe

May 18, 2016 by shelly Leachman
Photonics advances allow Earth to be seen across the universe
Credit: Istock Photo

Looking up at the night sky—expansive and seemingly endless, stars and constellations blinking and glimmering like jewels just out of reach—it's impossible not to wonder: Are we alone?

For many of us, the notion of intelligent life on other planets is as captivating as ideas come. Maybe in some other star system, maybe a billion light years away, there's a like ours asking the exact same question.

Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe. Imagine if another civilization did the same.

The technology now exists to enable exactly that scenario, according to UC Santa Barbara physics professor Philip Lubin, whose new work applies his research and advances in directed-energy systems to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). His recent paper "The Search for Directed Intelligence" appears in the journal REACH – Reviews in Human Space Exploration.

"If even one other civilization existed in our galaxy and had a similar or more advanced level of directed-energy technology, we could detect 'them' anywhere in our galaxy with a very modest detection approach," said Lubin, who leads the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group. "If we scale it up as we're doing with direct energy systems, how far could we detect a civilization equivalent to ours? The answer becomes that the entire universe is now open to us.

"Similar to the use of directed energy for relativistic interstellar probes and planetary defense that we have been developing, take that same technology and ask yourself, 'What are consequences of that technology in terms of us being detectable by another 'us' in some other part of the universe?'" Lubin added. "Could we see each other? Can we behave as a lighthouse, or a beacon, and project our presence to some other civilization somewhere else in the universe? The profound consequences are, of course, 'Where are they?' Perhaps they are shy like us and do not want to be seen, or they don't transmit in a way we can detect, or perhaps 'they' do not exist."

The same directed energy technology is at the core of Lubin's recent efforts to develop miniscule, laser-powered interstellar spacecraft. That work, funded since 2015 by NASA (and just selected by the space agency for "Phase II" support) is the technology behind billionaire Yuri Milner's newsmaking, $100-million Breakthrough Starshot initiative announced April 12.

Philip Lubin. Credit: Sonia Fernandez

Lubin is a scientific advisor on Starshot, which is using his NASA research as a roadmap as it seeks to send tiny spacecraft to nearby star systems.

In describing directed energy, Lubin likened the process to using the force of water from a garden hose to push a ball forward. Using a laser light, spacecraft can be pushed and steered in much the same way. Applied to SETI, he said, the directed energy system could be deployed to send a targeted signal to other planetary systems.

"In our paper, we propose a search strategy that will observe nearly 100 billion planets, allowing us to test our hypothesis that other similarly or more advanced civilizations with this same broadcast capability exist," Lubin said.

"As a species we are evolving rapidly in photonics, the production and manipulation of light," he explained. "Our recent paper explores the hypothesis: We now have the ability to produce light extremely efficiently, and perhaps other species might also have that ability. And if so, then what would be the implications of that? This paper explores the 'if so, then what?'"

Traditionally and still, Lubin said, the "mainstay of the SETI community" has been to conduct searches via radio waves. Think Jodie Foster in "Contact," receiving an extraterrestrial signal by way of a massive and powerful radio telescope. With Lubin's UCSB-developed photonics approach, however, making "contact" could be much simpler: Take the right pictures and see if any distant systems are beaconing us.

"All discussions of SETI have to have a significant level of, maybe not humor, but at least hubris as to what makes reason and what doesn't," Lubin said. "Maybe we are alone in terms of our technological capability. Maybe all that's out there is bacteria or viruses. We have no idea because we've never found life outside of our Earth.

"But suppose there is a civilization like ours and suppose—unlike us, who are skittish about broadcasting our presence—they think it's important to be a beacon, an interstellar or extragalactic lighthouse of sorts," he added. "There is a photonics revolution going on on Earth that enables this specific kind of transmission of information via visible or near-infrared light of high intensity. And you don't need a large telescope to begin these searches. You could detect a presence like our current civilization anywhere in our galaxy, where there are 100 billion possible planets, with something in your backyard. Put in context, and we would love to have people really think about this: You can literally go out with your camera from Costco, take pictures of the sky, and if you knew what you were doing you could mount a SETI search in your backyard. The lighthouse is that bright."

Explore further: Team to investigate possibility of using directed energy propulsion for interstellar travel

More information: The Search for Directed Intelligence. Philip Lubin, 2016, REACH - Reviews in Human Space Exploration, arxiv.org/abs/1604.02108

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Sonhouse
5 / 5 (5) May 18, 2016
Of course there is this pesky problem of light taking many years, decades, centuries and so forth, making a two way conversation pretty much impossible. And that is only stars in our own galaxy. Andromeda and the two clouds, hundreds of thousands of years to millions of years go by and by that time the originators would most likely be extinct if we see there signal now.

Like two ships passing in the night except on a galactic scale. Doubt we could have any kind of conversation for close in stars even 100 light years away. we might know they are there and they might know we are here but even at .5c that is 400 years for a round trip and even if we send messages by laser or some such, 200 years goes by between Howdy and Hi there, how are you doing?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (11) May 18, 2016
"We now have the ability to produce light extremely efficiently, and perhaps other species might also have that ability. And if so, then what would be the implications of that?"

-It means that emerging civilizations like ours would disappear from view in a very short time. The only thing that they might emit is waste heat.
wduckss
1 / 5 (9) May 18, 2016
"As a species we are evolving rapidly and photonics, the production and manipulation of light," he explained. "Our recent paper explores the hypothesis: We now have the ability to produce light extremely efficiently .."

If you have the light, why is 100 km above the Earth's surface dark?
Why is dark between the Earth and the Sun when we have light?
gkam
2.2 / 5 (10) May 18, 2016
It will be our luck that the first stuff they get from us is a Three Stooges Movie.

Or worse and even more sophomoric, a news report on today's politics.
Edenlegaia
5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2016
It will be our luck that the first stuff they get from us is a Three Stooges Movie.

Or worse and even more sophomoric, a news report on today's politics.


As if they would be better....don't go full prophet on how they could be, if they even exists.
vlaaing peerd
5 / 5 (4) May 19, 2016

If you have the light, why is 100 km above the Earth's surface dark?
Why is dark between the Earth and the Sun when we have light?


You can see light if you look into the source (the sun) or if it gets reflected on something (matter, which could for example also be air molecules), Space is (nearly) empty, so there is nothing to reflect it.

It's a very basic question, I can recommend to have a look at youtube documentaries and just search on "what is light".
EnsignFlandry
3 / 5 (2) May 19, 2016
Of course there is this pesky problem of light taking many years, decades, centuries and so forth, making a two way conversation pretty much impossible. And that is only stars in our own galaxy. Andromeda and the two clouds, hundreds of thousands of years to millions of years go by and by that time the originators would most likely be extinct if we see there signal now.

Like two ships passing in the night except on a galactic scale. Doubt we could have any kind of conversation for close in stars even 100 light years away. we might know they are there and they might know we are here but even at .5c that is 400 years for a round trip and even if we send messages by laser or some such, 200 years goes by between Howdy and Hi there, how are you doing?


That would be a monumental conversation, the most important in history. Just knowing life, and intelligent life, was out there would be the most incredible discovery we would ever make.
jaxom444
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2016
I have never understood why scientists think an advanced race would use the same technology as us? What if they were more advanced than us and have out grown radio and lasers and use some other truely advanced tech that we can not detect or even imagine.?
Shootist
3 / 5 (2) May 20, 2016
It will be our luck that the first stuff they get from us is a Three Stooges Movie.

Or worse and even more sophomoric, a news report on today's politics.


Or photos of aborted fetuses . . . Alien 1: Receiving transmission. Alien 2: Wha?!?. Alien 1: The dominant species of Sol III routinely kill their unborn young. Alien 2. Set phasers on macrodeath, this species is too barbaric to be allowed to survive.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) May 20, 2016
It's certainly worth a look, but one would think we would have spotted any such long ago.
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
1 / 5 (2) May 21, 2016
SETI, what an incredible waste of resources. Here the answer: yes, we are not alone, and the others who are tech wise way, way more advanced, have long found and visited us. They are just clever enough not to make a big public fuzz out of it, seeing how primitive and obsessed with war and violence we still are. Want to learn more? theyflyblog.com
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) May 21, 2016
dominant species of Sol III routinely kill their unborn young. Alien 2. Set phasers on macrodeath, this species is too barbaric to be allowed to survive
Any sentient species would have gone through a period where their technology enabled them to progressively eliminate attritive elements in their environment. And every one of them would be very familiar with the ruinous effects of overpopulation as a result.

And they too would remember that desperate period in their own history when the only solution available to them to avoid cyclic collapse and war, was infanticide either pre- or post-natal.

Perhaps like us they began to stage constructive wars in order to buy time, and to create an overall social stability which would allow them to advance their tech to the point where they could deal with their ruinous repro rate directly.

Perhaps they already taught us how to do this. Perhaps because they're machines they don't really care one way or the other what we do.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) May 21, 2016
I think that many talented novelists and futurists routinely visit physorg just to read the brilliant postings of otto. So let's put that theory to the test.

I had a nice idea for a Sci fi novel. No, this isn't the one where scientists found out that homosexuality was actually a curable disease, which to my knowledge nobody has yet attempted to tackle for obvious reasons; this is a scenario where aliens did indeed come to our system to colonize, but because of biological incompatibility it was far easier for them to terraform Venus, Mars, and various moons than to try to eliminate all life on earth.

So we sat by and watched as an advanced civilization grew up all around us much like the little old lady in Atlantic city who refused to sell her house and mr trump simply built his casinos around her like she wasn't even there.
https://en.wikipe...a_Coking

I expect to see a best-seller in about a year with royalties soon to follow.
Protoplasmix
3 / 5 (2) May 21, 2016
hahahha Ghost, "Invasion of the Orange Blooded Xenophobes". They come in wealth and promise to make Mars great again and to protect the solar system by making us build a Dyson sphere around the Earth.
Otto_Szucks
3 / 5 (2) May 22, 2016
"Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe. Imagine if another civilization did the same."

Humans have already done that - "The first nuclear device was detonated as a test by the United States at the Trinity site on July 16, 1945, with a yield approximately equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT. The first thermonuclear weapon technology test of engineer device, codenamed "Mike", was tested at the Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands on November 1, 1952 (local date), also by the United States." Then on August 6 and 9, 1945 the United States dropped "little boy" and "fat man" on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, which ended the war with Japan when the Japanese government sued for peace.
The nuclear weapons testing continued until 1963. But the signals had already been given and sent out that humanity had entered the nuclear age. "They" would have detected a "disturbance" in the Cosmos. It was like advertising, "we are here".
tblakely1357
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2016
It seems the requirements for intelligent life gets higher and higher as we find out more about the universe. Chaotic solar systems seem to be the norm, not the exception. The requirement of a large moon to stabilize weather enough for higher lifeforms to develop. Adequate magnetic shielding to minimize damaging radiation. The right proportion of elements. The right temperature range.

I'm sure the list will get even longer in the future.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (2) May 22, 2016
"They" would have detected a "disturbance" in the Cosmos. It was like advertising, "we are here".
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away... https://www.pinte...9071197/
Otto_Szucks
1 / 5 (1) May 23, 2016
"They" would have detected a "disturbance" in the Cosmos. It was like advertising, "we are here".
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away... https://www.pinte...9071197/
- Techno

LOL - May the Force be with you!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) May 25, 2016
hahahha Ghost, "Invasion of the Orange Blooded Xenophobes". They come in wealth and promise to make Mars great again and to protect the solar system by making us build a Dyson sphere around the Earth.
We couldn't afford it.

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