And you will recognize them by the pollution in their skies: a team of NASA-funded researchers may have developed a new way to find out intelligent extraterrestrial life.
TL; DR: It’s nitrogen dioxide.
Front: Finding evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life in an infinite universe is perhaps the most monumental endeavor a scientist can aspire to. In order to narrow the field of trillion stars, we need search filters.
The NASA-funded team decided to look for signs of technology, taking inspiration from the unique atmospheric state of our own planet.
According to the researchers:
The history of life on earth offers a starting point for the search for biosignatures on exoplanets with the different stages of the earth’s evolution through Hadean (4.6 – 4 Gyr), Archean (4 – 2.5 Gyr), Proterozoic (2.5 – 0.54 gyr). and Phanerozoic (0.54 Gyr – present) aeons, which represent atmospheric compositions to use as examples of the spectral signatures of an inhabited planet. Using Earth’s history as an example does not mean that these biosignatures are necessarily the most prevalent in the galaxy, but that this approach is merely a starting point based on the one well-known example of life.
In other words, we can use our knowledge of how the earth’s nitrogen dioxide levels have changed over millions of years to infer whether a similar planet is experiencing the tell-tale signs of intelligent, industrial life: pollution.
Background: We are facing a new era of the telescope that will see several breakthrough technologies unveiled in the near future. These new planetary surveying techniques are likely to become much more useful as not only can we find potentially habitable bodies, but we can also perform more robust spectral analysis on each one.
According to NASA:
To date, astronomers have found over 4,000 planets orbiting other stars. Some may have conditions suitable for life as we know it, and on some of these habitable worlds, life may have evolved to the point of spawning a technological civilization. Because planets are so distant around other stars (exoplanets), scientists cannot look for signs of life or civilization by sending spaceships to these distant worlds. Instead, they have to use powerful telescopes to see what is in the atmosphere of exoplanets.
As the number of planets we discover in potentially habitable areas continues to grow, we will need new and diverse ways to distinguish an inanimate rock from the home of our future neighbors.
Take quickly: Finding ET is no longer really a human job. We have AI in more than one case than you can shake off with a spectrum analysis gizmo. But the robots need to know what they are looking for.
Traditionally, we have used methods such as monitoring radio waves for extraterrestrial communications or observing solar flares on stars that are tame enough to accommodate solar systems. But we haven’t done much to look for the tell-tale times of an industrial planetary civilization. Mainly because our telescopes and computers weren’t as good as they are now.
The time is right to go all-in on space tech. We are close to possibly establishing our first research centers for other worlds within the next decade. We have to break through the fog of war around Earth space as quickly as possible.
Techniques like the NASA-funded team’s nitrogen dioxide detection method will help scientists and their algorithms narrow down the choices so that one day we can list the worlds we want to focus on in order to find a smart neighbor. You never know when to borrow some space sugar.
You can read the entire study here.
Published on February 10, 2021 – 21:54 UTC