1. A Researcher’s Hunt for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

    Dr Nathalie Cabrol. Illustration: Mark Weaver Image credit: Mark Weaver
    Dr Nathalie Cabrol. Illustration: Mark Weaver

    Excerpted from the story by Adam Mann:

    Our first encounter with extraterrestrial life won’t be with little green men—it’ll likely be with little green microbes, says astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol.

    Dr. Cabrol is at the forefront of the hunt for life off Earth. She works at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute, a nonprofit based in Mountain View, Calif. SETI scientists have worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and universities to develop instruments for probes to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto.

    Dr. Cabrol spoke with The Future of Everything about the new technologies, from artificial intelligence to lasers, that will assist in the search for life in the universe.

    We’ll Need a More Bespoke Approach to Exploration
    We have to change the way we approach exploration. Right now we’re doing general medicine. But every single planet and moon we’re going to explore is its own planetary experiment. As you go and explore each of these worlds you have to apply specialty medicine. Getting high-resolution temperature and atmospheric data from Mars is great, but microbial organisms in those environments are going to be there because of micro- to nano-climates. We need to know the climate at the level of a rock, a slope. You have to sit still and you have to do a lot of work in a small area.

    AI Will Help Us Interpret Alien Signals
    We are looking for signals coming from outer space, but nothing tells us that a human being would be able to recognize patterns created by alien technology. This is where AI comes in. It can see the patterns that we might not necessarily recognize, and a lot faster. We are now using AI on archived data, to make sure we didn’t miss anything in the signals we acquired in the past. In conjunction with exoplanet research and co-evolutionary biology, we use AI to start modeling what is going to happen on those planets, what type of life could evolve and how intelligent life communicates.

    New Tools in the Hunt for Life: Lasers… and the Study of Light
    I’m hoping we will develop new perspectives and new tools that we can search with. There is now laser SETI, which will observe all of the sky, all of the time to look for laser flashes from deep space.

    Spectroscopy of the atmospheres of distant planets will tell us whether they contain things like water and methane. Once we start to see that some planet has an ocean and the mixture of gases in its atmosphere seems to be in disequilibrium, that’s important. Life creates disequilibria. This is what we are looking for.

    Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal.

    Source: [The Wall Streer Journal]