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“Technological signatures” of intelligent life – what might look like?

Story5 illustration 201280 InfinityCosmos

 

Story5 illustration 201280 InfinityCosmos

It’s no secret that humanity has always been fascinated by the question of whether or not there is life beyond Earth. For centuries, this has been the domain of science fiction, but modern scientific research has made it increasingly likely that such life may, in fact, exist. While the search for extraterrestrial life remains largely focused on non-technological forms, there is growing interest in what are known as “technosignatures”—traces of intelligent life that might be detected through the use of technology.The concept of technosignatures was developed by scientists at NASA’s SETI Institute, who argue that searching for intelligent life should not be limited to just detecting radio signals from distant planets. Rather, they suggest that we should also be looking for evidence of artificial chemicals in distant planetary atmospheres, laser or radio pulses, and even massive structures built around stars to collect their energy (known as “Dyson spheres”).


These technosignatures have become increasingly accepted in scientific circles as legitimate forms of evidence for the presence of intelligent life beyond Earth. Jill Tarter, a renowned astronomer and co-founder of the SETI Institute, believes that her field has finally moved past its reputation as a “search for little green men” and is now being taken more seriously by the scientific community. She is particularly keen on expanding the search beyond its current focus on radio signals and looking for technosignature evidence at all wavelengths.


Of course, even if we do find evidence of intelligent life out there in the universe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll be able to communicate with them. The sheer distances involved mean that any two-way communication would take years to reach us and vice versa. Still, the possibility remains tantalizing, especially given the numerous recent discoveries of exoplanets and other potentially habitable worlds in our own galaxy.Ultimately, only time will tell what secrets lie waiting out there in the great beyond. But with increasing interest from both scientists and the public alike, it’s clear that humanity is now better prepared than ever before to explore these questions and make significant progress towards answering them. Whatever answers we eventually find, one thing is certain: exploration of the universe will never be the same again.


The Search for Technosignatures – Is AI the Answer?


In recent years, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been gaining traction and has become a hot topic of discussion in the astronomy community. Scientists today are increasingly interested in the possibility of finding evidence of life on other planets, and the search for technosignatures is gaining momentum. In this blog, we will explore what technosignatures are and how artificial intelligence (AI) might play a role in searching for them. 


Technosignatures are signs of technology that could potentially be produced by an extraterrestrial civilization – different forms of electromagnetic radiation, for instance, or changes in an atmosphere’s composition. One type of technosignature is a short-lived, transient signal – these signals can be bright and energetic but only last a few minutes. These transient signals are difficult to differentiate from natural sources such as gamma-ray bursts or supernovae, so it’s necessary to use specialized algorithms or AI to analyze large amounts of data and search for patterns that could indicate an engineered signal. 


AI searches have several advantages compared to human analysts when it comes to searching for technosignatures. For one thing, AI can sift through large datasets quickly and efficiently without getting tired or making mistakes. They can also look for patterns that would be difficult for humans to recognize, and they are less likely to be biased towards certain types of signals. 


NASA scientist Ravi Kopparapu is among those who are pushing the boundaries of the search for technosignatures. He has explored using nitrogen dioxide pollution as a signature for technology – since human activity produces pollution on Earth, it stands to reason that similar pollution levels could be evidence of a distant civilization. Kopparapu has also studied a temporary dip in such pollution levels around urban centers during lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic – he believes this could be potential evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. 


AI has already begun to play an important role in SETI research. AI algorithms have been used to analyze images taken by ground-based telescopes as part of SETI programs, as well as radio signals picked up from deep space. AI systems have also been used to detect signs of artificial intelligence in space exploration data collected by NASA and other agencies. The potential applications of AI in SETI searches seem limitless – from analyzing vast datasets for patterns suggesting artificial intelligence, to monitoring atmospheric pollution levels that may indicate an extraterrestrial civilization. 


In conclusion, AI technology will no doubt continue to play an increasingly important role in SETI research going forward, both in analyzing data collected by ground-based telescopes as well as from space exploration programs. With the help of AI algorithms, scientists will hopefully uncover evidence of extraterrestrial life and discover more about our universe than ever before.


Carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the observable universe, has been a critical component of life and technology on Earth. As such, it stands to reason that it could play a role in the life and technology of exoplanets as well. Carbon is a relatively reactive element, and so it is a natural candidate for involvement in synthetic reactions that any life form might use.The search for artificial chemicals on exoplanets can be challenging. For example, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were heavily used here on Earth as refrigerants before being phased out after the Montreal Protocol in the late 1980s due to their damaging effects to the ozone layer. If CFCs were detected in the atmospheres of exoplanets, it could be a sign of advanced technology. 


Artificial light is another phenomenon that astronomers sometimes consider a form of “pollution.” It can be difficult to observe, but capturing the glimmer of “city lights” on the night side of a rocky, Earth-sized planet would be a clear sign of at least moderately advanced technology. At the most advanced level, civilizations could be using “Dyson spheres” – megastructures around stars that partially block their light to collect energy from them. If this technology is used, it would create a huge infrared signature due to the waste heat it emits. This could potentially be detected by astronomers searching for signs of intelligent life beyond our own planet.


In conclusion, astrobiologists have found that carbon plays an important role in life and technology here on Earth, and it stands to reason that this could also be true for other planets. While detection of artificial chemicals can be challenging, there are some potential signs of advanced civilizations such as artificial light and Dyson spheres that could give us clues about whether life exists beyond our world.


Technosignatures graphic InfinityCosmos


Infrared radiation has long been associated with young stars and the dusty disks that surround them – the disks absorb the starlight and emit an excess of infrared light. But now, researchers have recently noticed a strange phenomenon – an increased amount of infrared radiation is being emitted from old stars like our Sun. This unexpected observation has prompted NASA astrophysicists to launch a survey to investigate the potential of discovering technosignatures – evidence of extraterrestrial life and technology – around other stars.


The survey conducted by Nick Siegler, chief technologist for the Exoplanet Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, and his team has catalogued over 40 technosignature investigation efforts by scientists in related fields. These investigations range from the more familiar searches for radio signals to more exotic searches, such as looking for strange gamma-ray emissions that may indicate highly advanced propulsion systems, or light signatures of large artificial structures blocking out some starlight.


The focus on technosignatures is part of NASA’s broader goal of searching for life beyond Earth, and is a subset of the search for biosignatures – evidence of all biological life, including microorganisms. This is an exciting development in the search for extraterrestrial life that could eventually lead to a breakthrough discovery.


In order to detect these technosignatures, various advanced astronomical technologies must be employed that are capable of detecting faint signals emitted from distant exoplanets. These include instruments such as EDI (Exoplanet Direct Imaging), spectrometers and radio telescopes. EDI in particular has revolutionized our ability to image planets and has enabled us to obtain unprecedented images of exoplanets orbiting other stars. Spectrometers have also played a vital role in our understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres and composition, while radio telescopes have been used to detect potential radio signals generated by extraterrestrial civilizations.


Though it’s difficult to determine if these technosignatures are evidence of extraterrestrial life or technology, the investigation into such phenomena is still very much ongoing and promising. NASA’s continued efforts to search for technosignatures on distant exoplanets should bring us closer to understanding what lies beyond our Solar System and help us answer one of humanity’s most enduring questions – are we alone in the Universe?


The search for technosignatures has been a mainstay of the scientific community for decades. Whether it’s SETI’s Microwave Observing Project, or the High Resolution Microwave Survey, researchers have long been looking for indications of advanced life in outer space. However, it’s only recently that NASA has taken a more active interest in the field.With the 2018 workshop held in Houston, Texas, organized by exoplanet researcher Dawn Gelino, the membership of technosignature working groups has grown exponentially. Several NASA research programs have also opened their doors to technosignature proposals and plans are in the works for a NExSS-sponsored webinar on the topic in summer 2023.


It’s not just within NASA that interest is burgeoning. Private initiatives, such as the 2020 “Technoclimes” online workshop, are being developed to help create a research agenda and bring attention to the field. According to Gelino, “We have to show everyone that technosignatures is a real field of study – quantitative, hard science – and needs funding in order to be able to grow and be part of the whole exoplanet ecosystem.”The key to broadening technosignature investigation is piggybacking on current exoplanet studies. The more opportunities researchers have to analyze data from stars and planets, the more likely they are to discover signs of advanced life. Moreover, expanding beyond radio signals and examining other phenomena such as energy absorption and emission could provide additional evidence.


As SETI veteran Jill Tarter stated, “It’s a really exciting time to be in the search. I think we have a real shot if something’s out there.” With renewed enthusiasm and advances in technology, there is hope that we may soon receive signs from another world. In order to make this dream a reality though, it’s vital that we continue to invest time and resources into these projects, so that we can one day answer the age-old question – are we alone?

“Technological signatures” of intelligent life – what might look like?

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