A star that's similar to the Sun and that's fairly close by is a natural destination for works of science fiction. The star Tau Ceti, for example, has figured in the writings of such well-known authors as Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Robert Heinlein.
A half-century ago, Tau Ceti was a natural destination for the first search for extraterrestrial intelligence -- and for the same reasons.
The star is less than 12 light-years away. As stars go, that's just down the block. And Tau Ceti is similar to the Sun -- a little smaller and less massive, but certainly a suitable place for life. And it's probably older than the Sun, so there's been plenty of time for life to take hold -- and even flourish.
Because of those characteristics, astronomer Frank Drake made Tau Ceti one of two targets for Project Ozma -- a search for signals from alien civilizations. It began 50 years ago this month, using a radio telescope in West Virginia.
The search came up empty, but scientists aren't ready to give up just yet. Tau Ceti is a target for a new radio telescope in California, which will spend much of its time scanning for alien radio signals. And it may also be a target for a future space-based observatory that will try to find Earth-like planets in other star systems -- and perhaps even take pictures of them.
So far, no one's found any planets orbiting Tau Ceti. But the search will continue -- a search for neighbors in a neighboring star system.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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