Does alien life exist? Astronomers have traditionally sought biosignatures — analyzing light from distant exoplanets for signs of things like oxygen — to find out if a planet could be habitable. However, a weakness of this approach is how we know of just one planet with life in the universe—our own—which means that scientists could overlook biosignatures from extraterrestrial life that is totally unlike any on Earth.

Now scientists at the California Institute of Technology and their colleagues have devised a way they suggest could find aliens even if they are not life as we know it. This new strategy depends on so-called “epsilon machines.”

WHAT IS AN EPSILON MACHINE? — An epsilon machine is a series of sophisticated algorithms designed to compute the statistical complexity of data. (Read: Not a physical machine.) The aim of the new paper, published Monday in Nature Astronomy, is to look at several factors — including how complex the systems in the world seem to be — to use it as a sign of life, even if the conditions don’t quite seem like Earth.

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