Scientists are developing techniques to detect space signatures in their search for alien life.
The Very Large Array (VLA) telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NARO) in Socorro, New Mexico, will be used to constantly search for evidence of technological signatures.
A technological signature is a proxy for the existence of a technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization, according to scientists at the Institute of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in California.
This includes things like the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere, laser emissions or structures that orbit stars.
The VLA is a collection of 27 radio antennas – and a spare – that work together to act effectively as a single huge telescope.
Bill Diamond, president and chief executive of the SETI Institute, said: "Having access to the most sensitive radio telescope in the northern hemisphere for SETI observations is perhaps the most transformative opportunity in the history of SETI programs."
Tony Beasley, director of NRAO, based in the US state of Virginia, said: "Determining whether we are alone in the universe as a technologically capable life is among the most compelling issues in science."
He added: "As the VLA conducts its usual scientific observations, this new system will allow an additional and important use for the data that we are already collecting.
"As continuous discoveries show us that planets are very common components of the universe, and we are able to study the characteristics of these planets, it is exciting that, at the same time, technological advances are giving us the tools to greatly expand our search for signals . of life.
"We are also looking forward to the next decade, when we hope to build a next generation Very Large Array, capable of searching a volume of the universe a thousand times greater than that accessible to today's telescopes – making it the most powerful radio-signature search engine that humanity already built. "
Scientists are also creating computer models to simulate extraterrestrial environments, helping to search for life beyond the solar system and planets that can support future searches for habitable planets and life beyond the solar system.
Victoria Meadows, principal researcher at NASA's virtual planetary laboratory at the University of Washington, said: "The next telescopes in space and on the ground will have the ability to observe the atmosphere of Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby cold stars, so it’s important understand how best to recognize signs of habitability and life on these planets.
"These computer models will help us determine whether an observed planet is more or less likely to support life."
The new developments come after Canadian astronomers have detected radio signals from outer space that are repeated at regular intervals.
The series of rapid radio bursts (FRBs) – pulses of short-lived radio waves that come from across the universe – was detected once an hour for four days and then stopped, only to restart 12 days later.
FRBs are not, by themselves, uncommon, but previous observations have shown that they are issued mostly randomly.