Seeing Aurora with Radio Eyes

Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute recently wrote a very cool article about the radio signals corresponding to aurora as possible indicators of Earth-like planets. His methods of explaining the geophysical phenomena and astronomical techniques are witty and informative. He truly makes me happy for never using the word “listen” to refer to radio astronomy. Radio waves are light, not sound! Although you can turn the signal into sound, as alluded to in his first paragraph, but rarely with useful results.

Basically, aurora can be associated with massive radio signals, which could be a signal to ET that we’re here or for us to find ET! But actually using it for detection does not look feasible, since the Sun and gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn give off much more radiation due to their own processes. Aurora are the pretty display of lights created by ionized particles reaching the Earth’s atmosphere near the magnetic poles. As Dr. Shostak explains the radio emission, saying, “Auroral Kilometric Radiation… is generated when fast-moving particles boil off the sun, gush into space, and then get manhandled by Earth’s magnetic field.” That makes an amusing picture in my mind for some reason. There are ways in which AKR will be useful for “legions of grad students” to study. Read his article to find out more!