There has been a lot recent hubbub about star KIC846252 as observed by the Kepler telescope. News abounded with fantastical titles as “Dyson Sphere Found”, “Ancient Mega-Structure Found”, and “Aliens Found Around Star”. It, of course, was NOT a “Dyson sphere”, “Dyson swarm”, or even a “Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal” vacuum cleaner. A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical mega-structure that completely encompasses a star and captures most or all of its power output. A true Dyson sphere would as by definition block most if not all of the target suns solar energy. Making it nearly impossible to detect at any sizable distance. It would have a weak thermal signature but nothing we could see at our distance or technological level. A Dyson swarm is similar to the sphere but would allow more starlight through. The readings from this star are truly puzzling but there is NO reason to jump to the most fantastical unlikely cause…Mega Aliens. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence….so far we have nothing like that.
But this whole flurry of pseudoscience made me think. How could we actually detect a Type 1 or 2 level alien civilization?
A Type I civilization – also called planetary civilization – is able to utilize and store energy available from its neighbouring star which reaches their planet, Type II is able to harness the energy of the entire star. Humanity at our current level of technology does not even rank on the Kardashev Scale. We are type 0. We are the new minds on the block. We are only a few thousand years out of the proverbial caves.
All in all, a civilization at these levels of technology would probably be harder to detect than ours is. That may be one possible explanation to the Fermi Paradox: Primitive civilizations are impossible to see, and Type I civilizations are impossible to see, too! The only time you might catch a glimpse of one is when it’s on its way to Type I status, and then only briefly. The odds of being near one of those is very low, and that’s why we don’t see other civilizations. They might be all around us, just utilizing energies our primitive primate science has not dreamed of, thus cannot detect.
There are two scenarios:
- They want to be detected
- They do not want to be detected.
Scenario: They Want To Be Detected
It has been theorized, that a civilization, wanting to reach out into space, and make its existence visible to other civilization may:
Nuke the Sun!
Shooting Plutonium in a star as big as the Sun, or smaller would have no noticeable difference in its luminosity, influencing its energy output only for a small amount of time, to an insignificant degree. It would, however, change its spectrum. You see, our Sun’s spectrum looks something like this:
With the addition of a small amount (merely some kilotons) of plutonium it would have traces, which look like this:
Astronomers on Earth, (and maybe their co-scientists of extraterrestrial origin) use the emission spectrum, to detect the elements present in the star to determine its generation, the elements in its system, etc…Point is, Plutonium is unnatural. It will never be a star if not put there by conscious effort. The fact that the spectrum of a star has plutonium, has been theorized to exhibit that around that star, a planet carrying an extraterrestrial civilization may lie, their people signalling their existence into the cosmos, reaching for communication.
Some possible examples of visible activities of Type II civilization:
- If electromagnetic waves with different lengths are produced by technological civilization such as ours (so we are visible now up to 50 light-years distance).
- If artificial atmosphere around a planet is produced.
- If some smaller planets are dismantled, moved or arise (they are produced).
- If you are dismantling gas planets, such as our Jupiter.
- If you are dismantling some star for H, D, T, He and then produce energy and required chemical elements.
- If you artificially destroy some star (for example increase its mass for supernova unnaturally).
This is the best possible scenario.
Scenario: They Do Not Want To Be Detected
Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way for us to build an apparatus for this purpose. Just some very well informed guesses.
Our best bet right now would be looking for EM activity that shows signs of being directed, highly ordered, repeatable, and precisely modulated. To use a metaphor, most natural radio noise is kind of like a flashlight (or a table lamp), while radio signals designed for communication are a laser pointer. While they’re more common than not, we’re unlikely to ever mistake one for the other. And while both eventually attenuate to the point that it’s impossible to pick them out, the laser pointer takes a LOT longer to do so, meaning we’ve got a much better chance of being in range to pick it out. Unfortunately, the signals that would be easiest to see, much like the laser pointer, are also highly directional… meaning that unless we just so happen to be in that line of transmission, it’ll head right by us without us ever knowing how close we were.
To make it even more difficult in a passive search for them is the fact that they may not emit any EM at all. Or even more likely they would utilize forms of energy and communication that we are not aware of yet. It is important to realize that our level of science is very low. It has only been developed for under 500 years. It is completely plausible that our science on a cosmic scale would not even rank in an alien pre-school primer.
But if we stretch our imagination we can think of an active search for Class 1/2 civilizations. A civilization this advanced would be extremely difficult to detect, so let’s make a lot of noise and wait for it to detect us!
Spacecraft: We send small probes to other stars using a technology similar to theoretical laser array. These probes emit every type of signal we can think of. After all, the species we are looking for may communicate in thermal radiation.
Unnatural Technologies: We build Dyson Spheres and Death Stars everywhere. We use our Dyson Spheres to make stars disappear from the alien’s night sky and our Death Stars to fill space with out of place elements.
The Downsides: First, this plan is highly risky as we may destroy alien life on stars with our Death Star or contaminate their living space to extinction with hazardous elements. Additionally, alien civilizations who see our sign may theorize them to be scientifically natural. For example, an alien civilization creates artificial gravity or dark matter. They send it to a planet with life, called Earth, with the hope that Earthlings will see the message and attempt a communication. Instead. Earthlings incorporate dark matter into a theory and forget all about it. I hope this helped give you an insight into SETI!
We must consider that they may be all around us right this second. But so advanced and evolutionary beyond us that their mere presence would be perceived as natural background.
Consider terrestrial ants. They can’t conceive of what we are. All they know are that there are lots of crumbs (which we drop) that tend to show up in a certain area near their anthill. For the ants, this is just a fact of life–“there are lots of crumbs over there usually” is just part of the nature of reality as they perceive it. Similarly, the evidence of alien life is probably all around us, but they are so much more advanced than we are, that the evidence of their existence appears to simply be woven into the nature of reality as we perceive it.
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