SETI & Technosignatures

SETI via Leakage from Light Sails in Exoplanetary Systems

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 14, 2015
Filed under
SETI via Leakage from Light Sails in Exoplanetary Systems

The primary challenge of rocket propulsion is the burden of needing to accelerate the spacecraft’s own fuel, resulting in only a logarithmic gain in maximum speed as propellant is added to the spacecraft.

Light sails offer an attractive alternative in which fuel is not carried by the spacecraft, with acceleration being provided by an external source of light. By artificially illuminating the spacecraft with beamed radiation, speeds are only limited by the area of the sail, heat resistance of its material, and power use of the accelerating apparatus.

In this paper, we show that leakage from a light sail propulsion apparatus in operation around a solar system analogue would be detectable. To demonstrate this, we model the launch and arrival of a microwave beam-driven light sail constructed for transit between planets in orbit around a single star, and find an optimal beam frequency on the order of tens of GHz. Leakage from these beams yields transients with flux densities of 0.1 Jy and durations of seconds at 100 pc. Because most travel within a planetary system would be conducted between the habitable worlds within that system, multiply-transiting exoplanetary systems offer the greatest chance of detection, especially when the planets are in projected conjunction as viewed from Earth.

If interplanetary travel via beam-driven light sails is commonly employed in our galaxy, this activity could be revealed by radio follow-up of nearby transiting exoplanetary systems. The expected signal properties define a new strategy in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

James Guillochon (1), Abraham Loeb (1) ((1) Harvard ITC)
(Submitted on 12 Aug 2015)

Comments: 6 pages, 5 figures. Submitted to ApJL
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Space Physics (
Cite as: arXiv:1508.03043 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:1508.03043v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: James Guillochon
[v1] Wed, 12 Aug 2015 20:05:20 GMT (1463kb,D)

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