Watching for a Signal from E.T.

An alien call may not come by radio; lasers could get our attention too

Forget that dramatic moment in the film Contact when the radio astronomer played by Jodie Foster rips off her earphones in astonishment after hearing four telltale beeps. Pure fiction, say scientists--and not only because of her hokey headset. When extraterrestrials finally make themselves known, they may not use radio at all. Instead, they're just as apt to signal us with beams of light. Says physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.: "It's foolish to try to guess what an extraterrestrial civilization might use. You ought to try all available technologies to detect it."

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