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As we watch with interest the analysis of the first Martian soil samples by Phoenix, others continue on with the quest to find extraterrestrial life of a more advanced nature. SETI once again featured in the news this week, with coverage of the Allen Telescope Array in the L.A. Times. But stories exploring other aspects of SETI have also been making news, and are worth a quick round-up.

One of the more prominent stories is a new proposal which focuses the search down to just 3% of the sky: ‘Line-of-Sight SETI‘. Just as our own search for extrasolar planets has worked by looking for planetary transits across distant stars, the rationale is that the intelligent alien civilisations most likely to try and contact us are those that can see our planet transiting. Thus, the new proposal suggests narrowing the sky scan to the area of the ecliptic plane:

“If those civilizations are out there – and we don’t know that they are – those that inhabit star systems that lie close to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun will be the most motivated to send communications signals toward Earth,” Henry explained, “because those civilizations will surely have detected our annual transit across the face of the sun, telling them that Earth lies in a habitable zone, where liquid water is stable. Through spectroscopic analysis of our atmosphere, they will know that Earth likely bears life.”

SETI’s Seth Shostak – one of those involved in this fresh idea – has more about it in this Space.com article. For those interested in the latter part of the quote above – how an alien civilisation would have surmised our planet was a good candidate for intelligent life – it’s worth checking out the recent Seed Magazine feature “Distant Mirrors“.

Other new SETI ideas being put forth include a search of the low frequency spectrum via the LOFAR telescope, and also the left-field idea of looking for signals by E.T. via neutrino beams.

And moving away from the technical side of things, Wired has a couple of stories exploring more philosophical topics: “The Surprising Spirituality of SETI“, and “Will Aliens Destroy Earthly Religion?“. Well, there’s ‘destroy’, and then there is DESTROY!!. Because sometimes it’s worth being cautious…

Feel free to post comments on any of the above – fascinating topics.