“If you could speculate what the alien motivation is, that might inform you on what type of technosignature investigation you are going to conduct,” said Nick Siegler, program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, while describing a hypothesis from his collaborator, Sofia Sheikh, postdoctoral fellow at the SETI Institute and a 2021 Penn State alumna. Technosignatures refer to scientific observations that could demonstrate the existence of technology in the universe beyond our own.
Siegler gave a talk last month titled “Alien motivations and their technosignature search approaches” at the second annual Penn State SETI Symposium, hosted by the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center in the Eberly College of Science. He described how extraterrestrial motivations for sending signals into space could affect how scientists search for their technosignatures.
“That’s a little bit out there isn’t it?” Siegler said “To try to speculate ‘what are the alien’s motivations?’”
He explained that civilizations seeking to terraform a new planet by molding it to fit their needs for life, for example, would leave different signatures than those aiming to harvest energy from nearby systems for use on their home planet.
Siegler described the launch of a fact-finding study to inform where NASA can make a positive impact in the investigation of technosignatures. As chief technologist and technology development manager for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, he has helped direct the search for inhabited exoplanets and identify useful technologies for research into extraterrestrial signals. There are many potential ways to search for evidence that a planet may contain life, he said, including looking for certain gases in the atmosphere.
“While you are observing these planets over courses of days you might get lucky, and you might find other contributors that you weren’t expecting,” Siegler added.