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It’s conceivable that extraterrestrial intelligences are using powerful lasers to grab our attention, but we lack the proper tools to notice. A newly deployed system might be exactly what’s needed for us to finally make contact.

Two laser-detecting devices were recently installed on the summit of Haleakalā, also known as East Maui Volcano, according to a University of Hawai’i press release. The devices, mounted on the rooftops of an existing building, will now work in concert with similar devices installed in California, at the Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sonoma. Together, these scanners will scour the Pacific skies in hopes of detecting powerful laser pulses sent by an extraterrestrial civilisation.

Unlike traditional SETI, which seeks to detect alien radio transmissions, optical SETI looks for signs of artificially created light. It makes sense that advanced aliens would want to use lasers for the purpose of communication, as messages transmitted over light have “a fundamental advantage over radio in that it can, in principle, convey far more bits per second — typically a half-million times as many,” according to the SETI Institute, which runs the LaserSETI program. Aliens could use lasers to communicate across interstellar distances, whether to off-world colonies or fledgling civilizations seeking to make first contact.

The newly installed system, a collaboration between the SETI Institute and the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA), can now monitor more sky than before.

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