After years of work and millions of dollars spent, the CSIRO today finally opened the first stage of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): the ASKAP radio telescope -- an absurdly powerful piece of technical machinery that is going to hurtle our understanding of the universe forward. Mapping the stars and unlocking the universe isn't the only thing the SKA will be used for though: the CSIRO is actually looking for extraterrestrial life at the same time.
Dr Brian Boyle is a super-smart guy. That's why he's the director of the SKA project for the CSIRO. Yesterday he explained that the SKA will study the far reaches of the universe to help us understand things like black holes, quasars and pulsars.
A by-product of this search, Dr Boyle said, is the ability to search for intelligent life outside of our own galaxy:
[Searching for aliens is] part of the program in an interesting way: it's almost a parallel activity for the survey being done. As you survey the sky, you look for signals of extraterrestrial intelligence as well. [Finding aliens is] not a primary goal, but it's a secondary goal you almost get for free.
We don't know where to look first, so we look everywhere possible. The more panoramic the field of view, the more chance you have of picking anything up. There are 1000 planets beyond our solar system, none of which are remotely earthlike.
So does the good doctor think we'll find any three-headed, extra-terrestrials out there? Pretty much anywhere you point the SKA you'll find a planet waiting to be examined.
The science drivers [behind the SKA] are to understand our origins: how galaxies formed, how black holes were formed and how the first stars formed. The extraterrestrial intelligence search is very interesting. It's very unlikely we'll ever find anything, but it's exciting nonetheless.
Whether we find aliens or not, I'm still super excited about the SKA.