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Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images

Astronomer Jill Tarter wants the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to be taken seriously.

Why it matters: SETI as a scientific field has long played second fiddle to other, well-funded searches for direct and indirect signs of life — like NASA’s Mars program and the hunt for alien planets around distant stars.

What's happening: Instead of generally referring to SETI as a search for smart aliens, Tarter is focusing on the search for "technosignatures" — signs of technology like geoengineering or large structures in orbit from distant civilizations.

  • "We can't define intelligence, and we certainly don't know how to find it at a distance, directly," Tarter told me. "What we can do is to look for evidence of somebody else's technology that might be discernible over interstellar distances."
  • If scientists on Earth happen to discover those massive signs of intelligent civilizations, however, they were likely created by a more advanced society because anything scientists could pick up from this far away would need to be particularly large for researchers to see it.

Between the lines: By putting technosignatures in the same conversation as biosignatures — biological signs of life on other planets like Mars — Tarter hopes both searches will be able to play off of one another.

  • "The exoplanets and extremophiles are pointing out that there is a lot more potentially habitable real estate out there than we ever imagined," Tarter said.
  • She also added that "the next obvious question is are they inhabited by intelligent beings?"

The intrigue: In the U.S., SETI efforts have largely been funded through philanthropy.

  • Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Listen is the most high-profile example of a philanthropy-funded SETI project in recent years.
  • But relatively new, international radio telescopes — like China's FAST and South Africa's MeerKAT — have come online, with the search for alien life built into their DNA, potentially giving a boost to the search for technosignatures globally.

Go deeper

CDC says fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks indoors

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images

The CDC announced in new guidance Thursday that anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, regardless of crowd size.

What they're saying: "If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will say at a White House press briefing.

Colonial Pipeline reportedly paid hackers nearly $5 million in ransom

Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Colonial Pipeline paid hackers linked to the DarkSide cybercrime group nearly $5 million in cryptocurrency after last week's ransomware attack, Bloomberg first reported and the New York Times confirmed.

Why it matters: The breach of the largest refined fuels pipeline in the U.S. triggered new concerns about the vulnerability of the country's increasingly digitized energy systems.

Biden warns gas stations not to price gouge: "That's not who we are"

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday warned gas companies to not price gouge amid major shortages following the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

The big picture: Biden added that the FBI does not believe the Russian government is behind the attack, but they do know that those responsible "are living in Russia."