If you've ever seen the movie Contact, you'll know the alien-hunter stereotype: quirky, visionary loners who sit up all night listening to static, hoping for the signal that will change the world. That's probably not far off from real life, except that SETI (that's Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) scientists are getting creative. Here at the Astrobiology Science Conference, 2008, they're presenting new ways of looking for little green men, including watching for signs of alien lasers, infrared signals, and even gravity waves.
SETI scientists have been looking for alien lasers for years now — part of the Optical SETI programs several universities and observatories across the country.
Those projects are still going full-bore, but scientists are hoping to increase their chances of success by building a detector that will look for near-infrared lasers, too. Just on the lower edge of the optical range of electromagnetic wavelengths, Andrew Howard and colleagues from UC Berkeley figure there's no good reason aliens wouldn't build a near-IR laser. And if they did, they'd obviously use it to broadcast complex signals to Earth containing detailed plans on how to build a device for interstellar travel.
Maybe that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but just in case, we'd better look for intelligent signals broadcast through gravity waves, too. These still-theoretical ripples in space-time are being tested for by the LiGO (Laser interferometry Gravitational wave Observatory) detector, mostly as a way to test astronomical theories. At least one researcher, Peter Hahn believes we should start analyzing the data for signs of ET, too.