June 6, 2020

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Exotic SETI

Cepheid variable star RS Puppis. Credit: NASA/HST.

It’s arguably one of the greatest questions in modern science. Where are they? Are we truly rare as an intelligent species, or does our brand of curiosity permeate the cosmos?  We recently watched a fascinating presentation in the SETI Talks series by Tony Zee that brought up one interesting possibility, a mode of communication that might be staring us in the face right now.

Could ET “tickle” a Cepheid variable star in hopes of gaining our attention? Zee points out that this isn’t as crazy as it sounds; an advanced civilization could do this relatively cheaply by employing a pulsed neutrino beam to modify the pulsation of the star. This would also have the benefit of being omni-directional. Cepheids are of interest to us as cosmic yardsticks, and would likewise be of interest to other space-faring civilizations as well.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of knowing your target audience. We’ve often wondered if we simply aren’t very interesting yet to a potential alien civilization. Perhaps, it’ll only be after we invent warp drive or the ability to smash neutron stars together that they’ll come calling.

Perhaps a huge “galactic internet” of Cepheid tweaking species does indeed exist. We’ve been monitoring these special pulsating stars now for about a century, and it’s something definitely worth checking for.

Editor’s Note: This will be the last “Astronomy Video of the Week” entry. We’re hitting the pavement soon on the great American road trip, and this space will be chronicling the weekly adventure with an eye towards all things astronomical. Stay tuned!

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