Where are extraterrestrial civilizations? | cosmic void

Artist's illustration of a technologically advanced exoplanet.  Colors have been exaggerated to show industrial pollution.
Artist’s illustration of a technologically advanced exoplanet. Colors have been exaggerated to show industrial pollution.NASA / Jay Freidlander (NASA / Jay Freidlander)

If there is life out there and if that life is intelligent, in the sense that it lives in an advanced and technological world, will we ever know? How? The big Hollywood productions tell us that we will find out that there are intelligent extraterrestrial beings when at some point they arrive on our planet, with better or worse intentions. And there we have a wide variety of situations: some aliens get lost, or even get sick, and they come in need of help, like ET; others arrive looking for something that they lack, like the lizards of v (and we make them sick), War of the Worlds (those did not know biology) or the little ones of independence day (the first cake that Will Smith gave); Others simply seek fun in environments that are exotic to them, such as predator. The problem with all these movies, at least with our current scientific understanding, is that bridging the gaps between stars, let alone galaxies, seems impossible on human time scales. And speeding up to the speed of light or higher or using wormholes is, right now, something that we consider physically impossible.

So, is there any alternative left for us in the near future to discover advanced extraterrestrial civilizations? Beyond science fiction, staying only within science, we can actually think of certain indications, more or less clear, that there are artifacts created by some intelligent mind in distant stars. We talk here about some examples of what are known as technomarkers.

The first indication of the existence of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization that comes to mind would be the sending of an electromagnetic signal, radio waves would be the most effective. But these don’t even count as a technomarker anymore. Too obvious, even the cinema has taken it into account in films like Contact. Despite what the movie says, the most normal thing is that a radio emission launched in all directions is not powerful and continuous enough for someone to see it. Too much of a coincidence to be looking at Earth with a radio telescope just as the 1936 Berlin Olympics are being broadcast! Well, just as the signal passes the planet, years after it was broadcast.

Technomarkers, as they are understood today, refer more to artifacts that have not been built expressly to communicate with other planetary systems. They would be gadgets for everyday use that could be detectable at interstellar distances for long periods of time, even beyond the period of existence of the civilization that builds them!

What could match that definition? Well, the normal thing would be to think about what worries us globally and with what technology we could put an end to that concern (positively or negatively, now I’m going to it). And with that premise, it is worth thinking about how they could have overcome those concerns and aliens more intelligent and/or advanced than us.

An example would be energy, never better brought concern in these times. A technological world needs more and more energy. And how to get it? We can think of producing large amounts of energy with fission nuclear reactors, historically not very well seen, or fusion reactors, much cleaner, but more difficult to build. And we can also think of carpeting roofs with solar panels, we have already arrived there. If we are already a more advanced civilization and the surface of the planet falls short, his thing would be to think big and surround our star with gadgets that collect energy. Let’s think that only one of every 1,000 million photons from the Sun reaches a planet, the rest is lost forever in the universe! A megastructure that surrounds (in 3 dimensions) a star to extract as much energy as possible is known as a Dyson sphere. The presence of this structure should be detectable because part of the star’s energy would be re-emitted in other areas of the spectrum, most likely in the infrared due to heating of the structure, or produce reflections, with its consequent alteration in the polarization of light. received, for example.

Another example of a global problem that a highly advanced intelligent civilization could consider is that of cosmic dangers, such as the impact of meteorites or comets, or the explosion of nearby supernovae. Obviously we have not reached that level of intelligence and advancement, since here that topic is just cause for laughter in a movie that many interpret around another global problem, such as climate change, or in American-style hero movies that make a meteorite explode just before it arrives. When we become aware that this danger exists at the level of millennia or tens of millennia, we will find solutions (if we arrive in time), which could involve moving stars from their orbits (something that is already beginning to be explored), including the entire Sun with your planetary system! One possibility could be to build sail-like megastructures that would use the star’s own light as “wind,” making it possible for shock orbits to be avoided. And this is where we return to the topic at hand, the detection of technomarkers. The interesting thing about this contraption, a stellar engine is called, is that it should maintain its relative position between the star and the celestial vault, always pointing towards the same place, towards where you want to vary the stellar orbit, that is, not orbit like a regular star. And so it would be detectable to us as something built by a super-advanced civilization: an object with an unnatural orbit.

Perhaps our extraterrestrial cousins, children of some sister star, play something else, their technology is much more advanced than ours and we can’t even imagine what goes through their heads (if they have) and can be built. Sir Arthur C. Clarke already said: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. If there really are extraterrestrial civilizations so advanced as to build gadgets like those mentioned or some that do not fit in our minds (yet?), why would they not have been clearly noted? There are three possible answers, some more hopeless than others: we do not yet have the technology to detect them, they do not want them to be found, or such an advanced level of technological civilization does not last long, there are internal or external dangers that kill them. You just have to think that on our “beloved” Earth, from the first radio signal created by humanity to the creation of weapons of destruction on a planetary scale, less than 100 years passed. That and more things are in the so-called Drake equation, another day we will talk about it.

Pablo G. Perez Gonzalez He is a researcher at the Center for Astrobiology, dependent on the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (CAB/CSIC-INTA).

cosmic void it is a section in which our knowledge about the universe is presented in a qualitative and quantitative way. It is intended to explain the importance of understanding the cosmos not only from a scientific point of view but also from a philosophical, social and economic point of view. The name “cosmic vacuum” refers to the fact that the universe is and is, for the most part, empty, with less than 1 atom per cubic meter, despite the fact that in our environment, paradoxically, there are quintillion atoms per meter cubic, which invites us to reflect on our existence and the presence of life in the universe. The section is made up Pablo G. Perez Gonzalezresearcher at the Center for Astrobiology; Patricia Sanchez Blazquez, full professor at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM); Y Eve Villaverresearcher at the Center for Astrobiology.

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