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.
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.
“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.