Scientists Say We're Looking for Alien Civilizations All Wrong
A new report lays out a modern way to search for E.T
An influential group of researchers is making the case for new ways to search the skies for signs of alien societies. They argue that current methods could be biased by human-centered thinking, and that it is time to take advantage of data-driven, machine learning techniques.
The team of 22 scientists released a new report on August 30, contending that the field needs to make better use of new and underutilized tools, namely gigantic catalogs from telescope surveys and computer algorithms that can mine those catalogs to spot astrophysical oddities that might have gone unnoticed. Maybe an anomaly will point to an object or phenomenon that is artificial—that is, alien—in origin. For example, chlorofluorocarbons and nitrogen oxide in a world’s atmosphere could be signs of industrial pollution, like smog. Or perhaps scientists could one day detect a sign of waste heat emitted by a Dyson sphere—a hypothetical massive shell that an alien civilization might build around a star to harness its solar power.
"We now have vast data sets from sky surveys at all wavelengths, covering the sky again and again and again," said George Djorgovski, a Caltech astronomer and one of the report’s lead authors. "We’ve never had so much information about the sky in the past, and we have tools to explore it. In particular, machine learning gives us opportunities to look for sources that may be inconspicuous but, in some way—with different colors or behavior in time—they stand out."
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