A new study on the search for extraterrestrials suggests that researchers, when exploring exoplanets, look for markers of technology, such as lights – just like those in urban cities – and gas emissions.
The research, published in the journal Acta Astronautica, presents a series of findings from a 2020 workshop sponsored by NASA and the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle.
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Among the findings, the authors said that for a long time scientists have focused on searching for radio signals to identify the presence of extraterrestrials in space, but other technological markers can positively contribute to this research. Research indicates that lights with shorter wavelengths are potential markers of technology and evidence of extraterrestrials.
Technological markers in the search for life beyond Earth
The conclusion is that: if extraterrestrials were spying on Earth at night, they would be able to infer the presence of human activity from the city lights, which are relatively concentrated in these urban spots.
Another important point to highlight as a marker is the production of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an atmospheric gas that can also be produced by artificial means, as a byproduct of industrial civilization.
According to the study, “Nitrogen dioxide production on Earth today includes both biogenic and anthropogenic sources. However, the amount of gas generated by humans is three times the amount of non-human generation sources. The detection of elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide, greater than non-technological emissions found on Earth, could be a sign that the planet may harbor active industrial processes.
The authors claim that there are already enough technologies and astronomical tools to identify the technological markers already available in space. However, it will take a community-wide effort to start looking,” the study says.
Moreover, although funding is a limiting factor, the authors defend, in view of a possible increase in expenditure in this research, that the search for technological markers will not entail any additional cost in the missions, since the techniques, in certain cases, can be included in the scientific justification of the projects. Still, there are public and private institutions that have shown a growing interest in hunting tech markers.
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