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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

Federal judge says Florida ban on "sanctuary cities" racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing "sanctuary city" policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.

Biden steps into the breach

Sen. Joe Manchin heads to a meeting with President Biden today. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden ramped up the pressure on his fellow Democrats Wednesday, calling a series of lawmakers to the White House in the hope of ending infighting and getting them in line.

Why it matters: Divisions within the party are threatening to derail Biden's top priorities. After several weeks of letting negotiations play out, the president is finally asserting his power to ensure his own party doesn't block his agenda.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Dems seek new green deal

Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats discussed with President Biden on Wednesday a plan to exempt billions of dollars of new climate spending from his requirement that his $3.5 trillion "soft" infrastructure plan be offset with additional revenue.

Why it matters: The accounting proposal — a version of "dynamic scoring" — would dramatically lower the amount of taxes Democrats would need to raise while creating wiggle room to increase the ultimate size of the package.