Laser to Communicate With Possible Extraterrestrial Beings

Making contact with intelligent beings in space may be a closer, and more feasible, reality than we think thanks to the work of a group of MIT physicists.
Mario L. Major

How to communicate with extraterrestrial beings has been the subject of blogs, movies, and books for a number of decades, supported by a healthy dose of far-fetched, but harmless, theories about life on other planets. Added to the discussion are theories put forward by scientists about what aliens look like and even when the contact may happen.

Now, a team of scientists from MIT has put forth a new idea about making contact, and it involves laser technology currently available on our own planet. The team envisions a laser beam that would (1) be detectable by extraterrestrial intelligence (2) "overcome uncertainties in nearby exoplanet orbits", or (3) not to interfere with distant systems. Some examples of potentially affected celestial bodies include Proxima Centauri b, and the more distant TRAPPIST-1 (40 light years away).

Translating the Vision into Reality

To achieve this ambitious goal, the physicists suggest using a powerful laser, between 1-2 megawatts, which would need to measure 30-45 meters in order to do the job. This would produce a beam with a staggering range of 20,000 light years. As for the message itself, it would essentially consist of short pulses of light which would generate a language, much like the way morse code works.

“If we were to successfully close a handshake and start to communicate, we could flash a message, at a data rate of about a few hundred bits per second, which would get there in just a few years,” explains James Clark, MIT physicist, and study author.

In terms of the design itself:

--> A telescope and infrared laser design would be integrated.

--> The infrared signal produced would be more than 10 times the infrared emissions from the sun.

--> The laser would generate a flux density of roughly 800 watts of power per square meter

Given the scale of power which will be produced, Clark acknowledges that more research will need to be done into creating the wisest setup that would guarantee certain safety parameters were being met. 

Combining Technologies in the Hopes of Silencing Critics

Because much of the resistance from the scientific community about ideas like these involve skepticism regarding feasibility, Clark and his team set out the explore ways in which current technology can be combined to facilitate communication.


"This would be a challenging project but not an impossible one. 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. I don't know if intelligent creatures around the sun would be their first guess, but it would certainly attract further attention.

I wanted to see if I could take the kinds of telescopes and lasers that we're building today, and make a detectable beacon out of them," Clark continues.

Details about the study appear in an article, titled "Optical detection of lasers with near-term technology at interstellar distances", which was published November 5th in The Astrophysics Journal