Interstellar communication: The colors of optical SETI

  • Michael HippkeEmail author


It has recently been argued from a laser engineering point of view that there are only a few magic colors for optical SETI. These are primarily the Nd:YAG line at \(1{,}064\,\hbox {nm}\) and its second harmonic (532.1 nm). Next best choices would be the sum frequency and/or second harmonic generation of Nd:YAG and Nd:YLF laser lines, 393.8 nm (near Fraunhofer CaK), 656.5 nm (\(\hbox {H}\alpha \)) and 589.1 nm (NaD2). In this paper, we examine the interstellar extinction, atmospheric transparency and scintillation, as well as noise conditions for these laser lines. For strong signals, we find that optical wavelengths are optimal for distances \(d\lesssim \,\hbox {kpc}\). Nd:YAG at \(\lambda =1{,}064\,\hbox {nm}\) is a similarly good choice, within a factor of two, under most conditions and out to \(d\lesssim 3\,\hbox {kpc}\). For weaker transmitters, where the signal-to-noise ratio with respect to the blended host star is relevant, the optimal wavelength depends on the background source, such as the stellar type. Fraunhofer spectral lines, while providing lower stellar background noise, are irrelevant in most use cases, as they are overpowered by other factors. Laser-pushed spaceflight concepts, such as “Breakthrough Starshot”, would produce brighter and tighter beams than ever assumed for OSETI. Such beamers would appear as naked eye stars out to kpc distances. If laser physics has already matured and converged on the most efficient technology, the laser line of choice for a given scenario (e.g., Nd:YAG for strong signals) can be observed with a narrow filter to dramatically reduce background noise, allowing for large field-of-view observations in fast surveys.


Optical SETI lasers interstellar communication Techniques: photometric Instrumentation: spectrometers 



MH is thankful to Marlin (Ben) Schuetz for useful discussions.


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© Indian Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sonneberg ObservatorySonnebergGermany

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