The TESS Mission: A Search for E.T.

SETI Talks

Tags: SETI Talks, SETI, Outreach, NASA Missions and Observatories

Time: Wednesday, May 18, 2022 -

Location: Online

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As one of the most advanced photometric survey instruments, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has observed tens of millions of stars since 2018. Many of these stars display variable light output caused by various natural sources, including transits by surrounding exoplanets. With thousands of planet systems now known thanks to TESS and other platforms, is it possible that any of them could harbor life, and even more interestingly, intelligent and technological life?

Theories posit that if intelligent civilizations exist in our galaxy, they might put artificial energy harvesting structures into orbit around their host star. Astronomers believe it’s possible to detect this phenomenon by watching stellar brightness dim each time a structure passes in front of the star. One of the best places to find so-called alien megstructures is the uniquely large dataset provided by TESS. This NASA mission offers additional opportunities to search for advanced extraterrestrial life associated with already known exoplanets. As part of the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, SETI scientists observe each TESS transiting planet system using the Green Bank Telescope and the Allen Telescope Array in the hope of detecting a radio transmitter relatively nearby in the Galaxy.

To explore the possibility of finding technosignatures within the TESS dataset, we invited two scientists to discuss their recent work. Ann Marie Cody, Principal Investigator with the SETI Institute's Carl Sagan Center, has received funding from NASA to survey the TESS data set to detect a megastructures, similar to Dyson spheres, in orbit around those star systems. Noah Franz, a researcher at Berkeley SETI and Siena College, led an article reporting on the search for technosignatures in radio using the Green Bank Telescope for several targets of the TESS catalog.

Together with Franck Marchis, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute and Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar, the team will discuss the advancement of these techniques in light of today’s known 5,000 confirmed exoplanets and 4,000 TESS candidate exoplanets. The researchers will examine the impact of their research in the framework of astrobiology and how any discoveries of an odd signal or a weird signature could bring meaningful scientific information, even if it is not (yet) E.T.

This talk is supported by the generous contributions of donors during the SETI Institute’s Giving Day 2022.

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Ann Marie Cody

Ann Marie Cody is a professional astronomer with a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. Currently a Principal Investigator with the SETI Institute's Carl Sagan Center, she has also worked at NASA Ames as part of the Postdoctoral Program and the Kepler/K2 Missions.

Dr. Cody uses ground-based telescopes and space observatories to explore the diversity of variability behavior among stars. She has used this variability to learn about the dynamics of gas and dust associated with newborn stars and their planet-forming disks. More recently, her work has turned toward the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. She is currently conducting a research program to look for signs of artificial structures in orbit around millions of stars observed with NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

In her spare time, Dr. Cody enjoys creating scientific cartoons to illustrate topics in astronomical research.

Noah Franz

Noah Franz is a junior physics and data science major at Siena College, a small liberal arts institution in upstate New York. This past summer, Noah was an intern at Berkeley SETI. Under the supervision of Steve Croft, he performed a radio technosignature search using the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia. In his technosignature search, Noah focused on radio signals coming from exoplanets in transit during their GBT observation. While Noah did not find any evidence of extraterrestrial life in his search, he discovered a new appreciation for SETI searches and is interested in the many different techniques being applied today. In the future, Noah plans to attend graduate school for astrophysics.

This SETI Talks will be online only and will not be live streamed on social media, please make sure to register for access to this event.