This New Tool For Looking For Extraterrestrial Life May Be A Game-Changer — Here's How It Works

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Are we alone in the universe or is there intelligent alien life out there? Researchers are hoping to be one step closer to answering that question with this new tool to help scientists search for alien life. However, if you were hoping for laser beams or super-sensitive satellite microphones or, like, an iPhone with really good signal, you’re out of luck. This new tool is actually a newly developed statistical model. Less cool-sounding, perhaps, but still exciting.

Scientist Claudio Grimaldi, who is working in association with the University of California - Berkeley, is to thank for this new tool which will help researchers better detect the kinds of signals potentially emitted by extraterrestrials. (Moment of pause to acknowledge that I’ve just casually drop the word “extraterrestrials” in a sentence about actual, real life science.) Grimaldi’s new method also has the possibility of making this search cheaper and more efficient.The statistical model, described in a new article published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, employs the Bayesian approach to detecting these types of signals. The model works using statistical probability, inferring whether there is intelligent life in the galaxy based on a more limited area of 40,000 light years from Earth.

As Science Daily explains, “if no signals are detected at this distance from Earth [40,000 light years], we could reasonably conclude that no other civilization at the same level of technological development as ours is detectable in the galaxy.” 40,000 light years is, of course, still a lot of ground (...space?) to cover. So far, researchers have only been able to search at a distance of 40 light years. However, this new model is a significant step in finding out if we’re...really alone. (Cue eerie music.)

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Of course, there are a significant number of factors in play when it comes to discovering extraterrestrial life outside our own planet. The primary obstacle being the same level of “intelligence” of said extraterrestrial life. If the alien life out there is at its most basic, primordial stages or at a more developed technological stage, we wouldn’t be able to detect any signals they might be emitting.

"In reality, expanding the search to these magnitudes only increases our chances of finding something by very little,” Grimaldi said, according to Science Daily. “And if we still don't detect any signals, we can't necessarily conclude with much more certainty that there is no life out there.”

So, again, this new model isn’t, like, a huge “we’re about to text with E.T.” step. However, it’s still significant in terms of space exploration.

This new model adds to 60 years of research on extraterrestrial life. Since the 1950, scientists have launched multiple projects in attempts to detect other lifeforms in our galaxy. However, none of those projects have yet to pick up any concrete signals.

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Scientifically proving something doesn’t exist is nearly impossible. As this archived piece from the New York Times states, even proving something as mythical as Sasquatch doesn’t exist is really difficult. In fact, proving non-existence when employed in arguments is typically a form of logical fallacy. Providing evidence of something not existing is counterproductive to proving something doesn’t exists. As of right now, we can’t say with certainty that intelligent life doesn’t exist beyond Earth because there’s no way to prove its inexistence.

That’s why this latest model developed by Grimaldi is so significant: it could potentially allow scientists to statistically infer that extraterrestrial life (that we’re able to communicate with) does not exist. “Yep, we’re alone,” is probably not the conclusion most of us are hoping for. However, we've got about 360,000 lightyears left of space to make that conclusion.