Ever want to search for space aliens … from within the rigorous confines of scientific academia? Now you can.
Scientific American’s Sarah Scoles reports that after testing one out last year, Pennsylvania State University has officially added a graduate-level class on searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.
The class is the first step in an effort to legitimize the field as an area of scientific research. If approved by the university’s vice president of research, it will culminate in July 2020 with the dedication of the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center – a hub for educating students, funding academic research, and hosting conferences about the hunt for intelligent life beyond the stars.
The course itself sounds fun for a subject that revolves around a program analyzing phenomena from space that, at least so far, have turned out not to be aliens pretty much 100% of the time. In addition to readings and discussions about exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) and potential exobeings (the theoretical denizens of said planets), the class includes field trips searching for exoplanets at an observatory and spelunking in caves to practice searching for signs of life and the conditions required for it to exist.
The instructor of the class and would-be head of the PSETI center is Jason Wright. The astrophysics professor became famous for SETI research after suggesting that several distant, room-temperature celestial objects might be Dyson spheres, hypothetical artificial structures that completely surround a star for the purpose of harnessing its energy.
Will the class and research hub play a part in finally finding life in outerspace? Who knows? But it can’t hurt to have more academics actively listening for E.T.’s phone call.