Search for nanosecond optical pulses from nearby solar-type stars

Andrew W. Howard, Paul Horowitz, David T. Wilkinson, Charles M. Coldwell, Edward J. Groth, Norm Jarosik, David W. Latham, Robert P. Stefanik, Alexander J. Willman, Jonathan Wolff, Joseph M. Zajac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


With "Earth 2000" technology we could generate a directed laser pulse that outshines the broadband visible fight of the Sun by 4 orders of magnitude. This is a conservative lower bound for the technical capability of a communicating civilization; optical interstellar communication is thus technically plausible. We have built a pair of systems to detect nanosecond pulsed optical signals from a target list that includes some 13,000 Sun-like stars, and we have made some 16,000 observations totaling nearly 2400 hr during five years of operation. A beam splitter-fed pair of hybrid avalanche photodetectors at the 1.5 m Wyeth Telescope at the Harvard/Smithsonian Oak Ridge Observatory (Agassiz Station) triggers on a coincident pulse pair, initiating measurement of pulse width and intensity at subnanosecond resolution. An identical system at the 0.9 m Cassegrain at Princeton's Fitz-Randolph Observatory performs synchronized observations with 0.1 μs event timing, permitting unambiguous identification of even a solitary pulse. Among the 11,600 artifact-free observations at Harvard, the distribution of 274 observed events shows no pattern of repetition, and is consistent with a model with uniform event rate, independent of target. With one possible exception (HIP 107395), no valid event has been seen simultaneously at the two observatories. We describe the search and candidate events and set limits on the prevalence of civilizations transmitting intense optical pulses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1270-1284
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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