Physicists have found that E.T. can indeed phone home, and he should have great reception too.
Sending messages through interstellar space using quantum communication is possible, a new study has found.
A team from the University of Edinburgh ran calculations on the movement of X-rays across the emptiness of space to see if they would encounter any obstructions.
Quantum particles, like photons of light, are fragile and could easily break down if they meet any kind of interference, like from a gravitational field.
However it was determined that the quanta could survive travelling hundreds of thousands of light-years at least – a greater stretch of distance than the entire Milky Way galaxy.
Extraterrestrial life could send messages through interstellar space using quantum communications, physicists from the University of Edinburgh have found
Quantum communication systems are faster and more secure than regular networks because they use photons rather than computer code. The lack of obstacles in space means that it is possible to beam messages across hundreds of thousands of light-years at least
DOES ALIEN LIFE EXIST?
No life beyond Earth has ever been found; there is no evidence that alien life has ever visited our planet.
However, this does not mean that the universe is lifeless other than on Earth, according to NASA.
The space agency says: ‘While no clear signs of life have ever been detected, the possibility of extraterrestrial biology – the scientific logic that supports it – has grown increasingly plausible.’
One popular school of thought is that our own existence is evidence that there is certainly life on other planets, as the likelihood of Earth being a ‘one-off’ is almost zero.
However, one argument against this is – if there is extraterrestrial life, why have we not found any evidence for it?
Over the past few years, scientists around the world have been investigating using quantum communication here on Earth.
Quantum tech employs the effects of quantum physics – the nature of matter at the atomic and subatomic levels – for advances in communications.
Quantum communication systems are faster and more secure than regular networks because they use photons rather than computer code, which can be hacked.
It is hoped the technology could provide an ‘unhackable’, high-speed internet in the future.
However, the largest roadblock for implementing the quantum systems is how susceptible they are to ‘decoherence’.
This is when a quantum particle loses some or all of its unique characteristics as it interacts with its surroundings.
Potential obstacles include the gravitational field of large planets or stars, cosmic dust, solar winds and other particle content in the interstellar medium.
In the paper, published last month in Physical Review D, the physicists describe their calculations that prove that quantum particles could be beamed over large interstellar distances.
They used astronomical data and mathematical models to describe the movement of X-Rays between roughly a hundred relatively nearby exoplanets and Earth.
It was concluded that this distance probably wouldn’t present very disruptive obstacles to the quanta.
This is largely due to the ‘cleaner’ environment in space than on Earth, as the average density of matter is much smaller.
Therefore the likelihood of a quantum particle being knocked off course while moving through space is much lower.
The researchers wrote: ‘It is plausible that quantum communication mediated by photons could be established across interstellar distances, in particular for photons in the X-ray region below the electron mass.’
As well as X-rays, they noted that photons of microwaves and optical light would also be feasible.
Quanta are also still limited by only being able to travel at the speed of light, 186,282 miles per second, meaning messages would still take years to cover inter-planetary distances
The level of information that can be securely transferred using quanta at high speeds could make it a viable method of communication to other life forms, according to the researchers.
There are currently no known objects that naturally transmit quantum messages that could be mistaken for alien signals, the researchers claim.
But it would require a powerful quantum computer on Earth to decode any, and we would have to make assumptions about the encryption codes.
Quanta are also still limited by only being able to travel at the speed of light, 186,282 miles per second, meaning messages would still take years to cover inter-planetary distances.
It is currently only speculation, but the research does give experts another sign of life to look out for.
Quantum teleportation is also suggested as a potential way of sending quantum information ’emitted by an extraterrestrial civilisation’.
This is where the properties of a distant particle can be transferred to another across space, and requires both classical and quantum signals.
The physicists wrote that extraterrestrial life may prefer this, as it ‘could provide a better signature for detection’, and any scientists on the lookout should be checking for both.
They added: ‘In principle, it should be possible to detect a quantum signal coming from an astrophysical body or even an intelligent signal from an extraterrestrial civilisation.’
KEY DISCOVERIES IN HUMANITY’S SEARCH FOR ALIEN LIFE
Discovery of pulsars
British astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first person to discover a pulsar in 1967 when she spotted a radio pulsar.
Since then other types of pulsars that emit X-rays and gamma rays have also been spotted.
Pulsars are essentially rotating, highly magnetised neutron stars but when they were first discovered it was believed they could have come from aliens.
‘Wow!’ radio signal
In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the night sky above Ohio spotted a radio signal so powerful that he excitedly wrote ‘Wow!’ next to his data.
In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the night sky above Ohio spotted a radio signal so powerful that he excitedly wrote ‘Wow!’ next to his data
The 72-second blast, spotted by Dr Jerry Ehman through a radio telescope, came from Sagittarius but matched no known celestial object.
Conspiracy theorists have since claimed that the ‘Wow! signal’, which was 30 times stronger than background radiation, was a message from intelligent extraterrestrials.
Fossilised Martian microbes
In 1996 Nasa and the White House made the explosive announcement that the rock contained traces of Martian bugs.
The meteorite, catalogued as Allen Hills (ALH) 84001, crashed onto the frozen wastes of Antarctica 13,000 years ago and was recovered in 1984.
Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike.
Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike (pictured)
However, the excitement did not last long. Other scientists questioned whether the meteorite samples were contaminated.
They also argued that heat generated when the rock was blasted into space may have created mineral structures that could be mistaken for microfossils.
Behaviour of Tabby’s Star in 2005
The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astronomers since being discovered in 2015.
It dims at a much faster rate than other stars, which some experts have suggested is a sign of aliens harnessing the energy of a star.
The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015 (artist’s impression)
Recent studies have ‘eliminated the possibility of an alien megastructure’, and instead, suggests that a ring of dust could be causing the strange signals.
Exoplanets in the Goldilocks zone in 2017
In February 2017 astronomers announced they had spotted a star system with planets that could support life just 39 light years away.
Seven Earth-like planets were discovered orbiting nearby dwarf star ‘Trappist-1’, and all of them could have water at their surface, one of the key components of life.
Three of the planets have such good conditions, that scientists say life may have already evolved on them.
Researchers claim that they will know whether or not there is life on any of the planets within a decade, and said: ‘This is just the beginning.’