Dr. Ann Marie Cody uses space telescope data to study variability associated with stars and the material surrounding them. This summer, she and her student Marlee Rapp are working with data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS has observed tens of millions of stars over the past few years, many of which have variable light output. This variability comes from a variety of sources, including eclipsing binary star systems and dark spots on the spinning stellar surface. Cody is particularly interested in stars that display pronounced fading events, as these usually indicate occulting material surrounding a star. It has even been proposed that if intelligent civilizations exist in our galaxy, they might place artificial energy harvesting structures into orbit around their host star. We could then detect them by watching the stellar brightness dim each time a structure passed in front of the star. Cody and Rapp are now developing algorithms to search for such "technosignatures" among the stars monitored by TESS. The most intriguing and anomalous targets identified through this analysis will then be followed up with ground-based telescopes, including radio observatories dedicated to SETI searches.
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