CAMBRIDGE (CBS) — Firing a megawatt laser into space with the goal of attracting alien attention is technologically feasible, according to a new MIT study.

The research published recently in The Astrophysical Journal says the laser beacon could be “something of a planetary porch light” and find its way to possible life forms as far as 20,000 light years away.

(Image credit: MIT News)

The high-powered laser would need to be focused through a 30 to 45-meter telescope, study author James Clark says. A telescope of that size does not currently exist but there are plans to build one in Chile. And he says the U.S. Air force once developed a laser of the required strength which was meant to shoot down ballistic missiles.

Once the beam of infrared radiation is sent out, Clark says alien astronomers looking at our part of the Milky Way could detect it because the laser’s infrared signal would be stronger than the sun’s. Scientists could then pulse the laser in order to send a message to aliens that may have spotted us.

Related: Interstellar Object May Have Been Alien Probe, Harvard Paper Claims

“The kinds of lasers and telescopes that are being built today can produce a detectable signal, so that an astronomer could take one look at our star and immediately see something unusual about its spectrum,” Clark said. “I don’t know if intelligent creatures around the sun would be their first guess, but it would certainly attract further attention.”

The study notes that the massive 1-2 megawatt laser comes with its own safety issues. It could damage a person’s vision if they look directly at it, and may also mess with the cameras of passing spacecraft.

“Whether or not this is a good idea, that’s a discussion for future work,” Clark said.

Comments (27)
  1. Johnny Patti says:

    I’m not sure aliens would recognize it. The same reason, why would a more technologically advanced species not send us their laser to let us know they exist? Maybe they are racist.

  2. Students at MIT are certainly smart, but that does not translate to how they use their “smarts”. This is one example of DUMB use of smart people and technology.

  3. Kyle Waters says:

    Suuure give the aliens a reason to invade. The galactic council won’t question it, since the omicrons can just claim we shot first.

  4. Attract meat eating aliens that don’t care what package the meat is inside, like a human body?

  5. John C. Gardner says:

    A Lazer sign like those old highway neon signs with an arrow saying “Eat Here” … 😳

  6. Yelnic Mcwawa says:

    I call it the “Alan Parsons Project” – Dr Evil

  7. Joe Chute says:

    It’s a cookbook

  8. Steven Askinazi says:

    Most likely an advanced race will look at us like insects and exterminate us.

  9. Why would you want to do that?! We have more illegal aliens than we want right crashing our border right now!

  10. Won’t matter. There are no aliens. For whatever reason, we tend to forget that life is “of the Earth,” not separate from it. As such, the odds of life existing elsewhere are effectively zero.

  11. Jack Inmanz says:

    I’ll assume you mean aliens from outer space. The aliens here are attracted to any kind of shiny object, so shining it up into space in not necessary.

  12. Shawn French says:

    Ring the cosmic dinner bell.

  13. Paul T Butler says:

    for aliens 20,000 ly away the message would be “we were here” not we are here

  14. Rob Blochinger says:

    Awesome…and in 20,000 years, when light reaches them, they can shoot light at us that we will see in 20,000 years. We should spend tax money on this…..stat.

  15. Russ William says:

    Uh, maybe not a good idea. Personally I believe there is a good chance they already know and have been here, but let’s not attract a race that may decide to eradicate us.

  16. Joyce Lepak Jorgensen says:

    This is Joyce’s husband commenting. That is a potentially dangerous thing to do. You don’t know who might respond and how. Maybe they’d be friendly and maybe not. If not, we’re all in serious trouble. Don’t send a signal.

  17. Maybe there is a reason we haven’t found any other intelligent life in space. Maybe they are all hiding from something.

  18. Wonderful. A Bunch of scientists trying to make “How to Serve Man” a reality.

  19. What is it with these egg heads? Let’s assume that aliens do exist. Now you think about the technology required for interstellar travel, which would put them very, very farther along technologically than humans.

    So they would have the ability to simply take us over, or kill us all off if they felt like it. For all we know they decide humans taste great.

    There is no reason whatsoever to believe that any alien that came along and found us would be helpful, they might be, they might be quite malevolent.

    It’s beyond stupid to attract that kind of attention when you yourself have no way of preventing a more powerful entity from wiping out the entire human race.

  20. Susan Cramer Johnson says:

    I guess that our only comfort will be the satisfaction that those MIT guys will also be killed when the aliens come and blow up our planet for shooting out a laser beam that is screwing up their navigation systems.

  21. Doc Kennedy says:

    It does not seem wise to shoot ANYTHING into space, not knowing: First, What or who it might hit. Second: It could be a killer to another species of life. Thirdly, Should not such a decision involve at least our representatives and maybe a national vote. Fourthly. My mother had a great lesson…’Joseph, do not fix the clock until it is broken.’ Translation: let well enough alone!

  22. No. Don’t do it. If you do, and something bad happens, people will remember who brought down such bad luck upon our planet. Stephen Hawking even says this is a very bad idea. Hello?

  23. Robert W. Polzin says:

    Bad Idea. You presume aliens are benevolent and friendly. They very well could slaughter us and harvest our planet for its resources.

  24. Leland Brode says:

    Maybe we would attract aliens who crave salt water, and it’s a rare find in our galaxy. They could help prevent sea level rise.

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