Extraterrestrial alert: 737 places where aliens might be hiding

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The Exotica Catalog was put together by researchers from Breakthrough Listen, a decade-long program seeking to find signs of intelligent life in the universe. It ambitiously includes “one of everything” in astronomy. Incredibly, the catalog lists over 700 distinct targets, ranging from asteroids, comets, and planets through to pulsars, galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. The point of the catalog is to “expand the diversity of targets surveyed in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI),” according to the team’s paper.

Various classification schemes have been attempted before, but nothing on this scale. In total, [astronomer Brian] Lacki and his colleagues identified 737 distinct astronomical objects, some very well understood and others in desperate need of scientific attention.

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The Exotica Catalog further signifies the ongoing shift away from traditional SETI strategies, in which scientists search for “familiar” alien signatures (such as radio emissions), and the shift toward Dysonian SETI, in which scientists look for extraterrestrial technosignatures, that is, signs of alien technology: stuff like Dyson shells (a star surrounded by solar panels), industrial waste, gigantic space habitats, beacons, and things we can’t even imagine.

A driving motivation for Lacki when compiling this catalog was the idea that some alien intelligences might be exceptionally different from us, and by consequence, we’re looking for them in the wrong places.

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