Astronomers Propose Using The Sun To Send Messages To Other Stars – Chron

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Astronomers Propose Using The Sun To Send Messages To Other Stars – Chron

The Sun is the ultimate power source of nearly all life on Earth. It is a million-degree ball of plasma, an ongoing thermonuclear explosion and, according to a recent study, a potential gateway to galactic Internet.

If humanity ever plans to expand beyond the solar system, it needs to invent new ways to communicate over huge distances between stars. Signals in space usually get weaker with distance for the same reason your cell service worsens the farther you are from a radio tower. Imagine scaling that logic a trillion times, and you begin to get a sense of how hard it might be to stream Netflix from Alpha Centauri.

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But over the past several years, astronomers have begun studying ways we might send and receive signals using the Sun itself as a lens that would focus light into a more powerful beam. In a paper pre-released on Monday, Michael Hippke, an astronomer at the Sonneberg Observatory in Germany, argues that this technology is not only feasible, but that we should be able to check whether our very own Sun is being used as part of an extraterrestrial civilization’s interstellar communication network. 

The Sun does not have to be made of glass to act like a lens. Using a method called “gravitational lensing,” a star can bend the path light takes around it solely by virtue of how massive it is. Just as you have to bring your eye to the right distance from a magnifying glass for it to work, humankind would have to launch a spacecraft away from the Sun to collect the focused light. But once the probe is out there, the signals it transmits or collects from the opposite side of the Sun would be a billion times stronger than what we’d get on Earth. 

According to Hippke, if the Sun is already part of a larger alien network, existing telescopes should be able to spot relays pointing at us from around other nearby stars. While it remains to be seen whether astronomers take up the task, this raises one question that the study does not answer: “Would an alien civilization’s use the Sun as a relay by coincidence? Or would they be waiting for us to log on?”

Asa Stahl is an astrophysics PhD candidate at Rice University and the award-winning author of the pop science children’s book “The Big Bang Book.” His research is aimed at discovering planets around other stars in order to answer some of our biggest questions, like “How special is the Earth?” and “How did we get here?” His recent book has been recognized as an Edward Jack Keats Award Honoree, an NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Book, and a Sakura Medal Finalist.

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Source: The Anomalist

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