Astronomers May Find The Coolest Aliens by Detecting Their Pollution
Earthlings have identified many potential methods for detecting extra-terrestrial life. Some recent ideas focus on examining the atmospheres of exoplanets to identify those tell-tale chemicals that life as we know it produces. Finding oxygen and methane would be clear evidence that some kind of life exists on the planet. The problem is, the planet could consist of just bacteria.
Ok, finding evidence of bacteria-like micro-organisms would be cool as hell. Just verifying once and for all that life, any life, exists elsewhere in the universe would be quite epic. The problem is…they’re alien bacteria.
If we find evidence of aliens, I want to imagine multi-cellular, intelligent, self-aware, technological aliens that could wipe us out with a press of an alien button.
Sure, SETI could find aliens like that by intercepting their signals but it’s taking too long and we need more ways to find them. So, let’s look for something that only my kind of aliens could produce…pollution.
That’s exactly what scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are proposing. They determined that the next-generation Hubble telescope, the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) may be able to detect alien pollution in their exoplanet atmospheres.
The type of pollutants it could detect are called CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons. You know, those are the solvents and aerosols we release to destroy our ozone so we can get tans and cancer easier. The JWST should be sensitive enough to detect CFCs if their atmospheric levels were 10 times those of earth.
Disappointingly, the JWST would need to detect an earth-like planet orbiting a white dwarf star. That kinda blows. A white dwarf star isn’t really a star at all. It’s a burned-out remnant of what once was a star like the sun. After our sun enters the Red Giant phase, it’s outer atmosphere blows away leaving its hot, dense, earth-sized core.
What kind of planet is going to be orbiting that? Sure, there are orbits that could permit liquid water on the surface but those planets would need to be 100 times closer than earth where tidal forces and UV rays could make them inimical to life as we know it. Not only that, since white dwarf stars no longer engage in fusion, they slowly cool over time meaning their habitable zone slowly shrinks.
Oh well, we may need to wait for the generation of Space Telescopes after the JWST so we can detect the pollution of earth-like planets around sun-like stars.
In the meantime, I’ll wait for those signals from real aliens.
P.S. The irony is not lost on me that aliens may have already detected our pollution and were forced to conclude that earth life-forms are clearly stupid.
Image Credit: National Geogrphic