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SETI deals with new tools and new troubles

PANOSETI telescopes
Two PANOSETI telescopes are installed in the recently renovated Astrograph Dome at the Lick Observatory in California. PANOSETI will use a configuration of many SETI telescopes to allow simultaneous monitoring of the entire observable sky. (© Laurie Hatch Photo via UCSD)

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, better known as SETI, is taking advantage of a widening array of strategies — ranging from sophisticated laser searches, to a new type of wide-angle optical observatory, to arrangements to conduct the search simultaneously with other scientific efforts.

But new technologies are also bringing new challenges: For example, how will radio astronomers deal with the noise created by a fast-growing number of satellites in low Earth orbit?

The technological pluses and minuses for the SETI quest, and for other strategies aimed at detecting life beyond our solar system, took the spotlight in Seattle last weekend during a session presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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