A disk of debris around a star is a likely indicator of planets. A disk of debris with a wildly atypical chemistry could mean aliens.

Astronomy Without A Telescope – Alien Mining

24 Apr , 2011 by

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Recently, some researchers speculated on what types of observational data from distant planetary systems might indicate the presence of an alien civilization, determined that asteroid mining was likely to be worth looking for – but ended up concluding that most of the effects of such activity would be difficult to distinguish from natural phenomena.

And in any case, aren’t we just anthropomorphizing by assuming that intelligent alien activity will be anything like human activity?

Currently – apart from a radio, or other wavelength, transmission carrying artificial and presumably intelligent content – it’s thought that indicators of the presence of an alien civilization might include:
• Atmospheric pollutants, like chlorofluorocarbons – which, unlike methane or molecular oxygen, are clearly manufactured rather than just biogenically produced
• Propulsion signatures – remember how the Vulcans detected humanity in First Contact (or at least they decided we were worth visiting after all, despite all the I Love Lucy re-runs)
Stellar engineering – where a star’s lifetime is artificially extended to maintain the habitable zone of its planetary system
Dyson spheres – or at least their more plausible off-shoots, such as Dyson swarms.

And perhaps add to this list – asteroid mining, which would potentially create a lot of dust and debris around a star on a scale that might be detectable from Earth.

There is a lot of current interest in debris disks around other stars, which are detectable when they are heated up by the star they surround and then radiate that heat in the infra-red and sub-millimeter wavelengths. For mainstream science, debris disk observations may offer another way to detect exoplanets, which might produce clumping patterns in the dust through gravitational resonance. Indeed it may turn out that the presence of a debris disk strongly correlates with the existence of rocky terrestrial planets in that system.

But now going off the mainstream… presuming that we can eventually build up a representative database of debris disk characteristics, including their density, granularity and chemistry derived from photometric and spectroscopic analysis, it might become possible to identify anomalous debris disks that could indicate alien mining activities.

Some recent astronomy pareidolia. Not an alien mining operation on Mercury, but a chunk of solidified ejecta commonly found in the center of many impact craters. Credit: NASA.

For example, we might see a significant deficiency in a characteristic element (say, iron or platinum) because the aliens had extracted these elements – or we might see an unusually fine granularity in the disk because the aliens had ground everything down to fine particles before extracting what they wanted.

But surely it’s equally plausible to propose that if the aliens are technologically advanced enough to undertake asteroid mining, they would also do it with efficient techniques that would not leave any debris behind.

The gravity of Earth makes it easy enough to just blow up big chunks of rock to get at what you want since all the debris just falls back to the ground and you can sort through it later for secondary extraction.

Following this approach with an asteroid would produce a floating debris field that might represent a risk to spacecraft, as well as leaving you without any secondary extraction opportunities. Better to mine under a protective canopy or just send in some self-replicating nanobots, which can separate out an enriched chunk of the desired material and leave the remainder intact.

If you’re going to play the alien card, you might as well go all in.

Further reading: Forgan and Elvis. Extrasolar Asteroid Mining as Forensic Evidence for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Some useful tips on asteroid mining can be found here.

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VIGNESHRAJU
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VIGNESHRAJU
April 24, 2011 11:14 AM

I believe that there is alien civilization.soon we’ll find and contact with it i know that they were far away from us.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
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IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
April 24, 2011 9:12 PM

Hey man, like, er… stay far away from whatever that stuff you’re smoking!

Lawrence B. Crowell
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Lawrence B. Crowell
April 24, 2011 12:22 PM
I think the prospects for finding a stellar system with signature of ETI activity are virtually infinitesimal. It is of course worth shelving this prospect in the back of our data analysis method file, but I would be surprised if something came of this. I suspect if there is a continuation of our species beyond Earth it will not be our selves. We may over this century introduce self regulating, self modifying and replicating systems into the solar system. These might possibly be on the nanobot scale, where the molecular and atomic structure of these systems mimics molecular biological systems which evolved on Earth. These might then come to evolve into complex forms which live throughout the low… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 24, 2011 10:33 PM
Kardashev It is a popular pastime to take a potential trend of society and extrapolate. Malthus extrapolated potential population increase. Kardashev extrapolated potential energy increase. And Kurzweil extrapolates potential chip capability increase. All of them are wrong of course. No natural populations follows Malthus projection, and specifically our own population increase is rapidly decreasing. I just checked with Gapminder, and energy use/person correlates well with income/person. Hence energy use increase will rapidly decrease following the population process. Kurzweil will run into similar problems since the rate of chip capability increase will founder as the easiest achievements are made (the technique matures) and as the bottleneck moves to other parts of the system (todays data mining means the new… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 24, 2011 10:39 PM

I should add that of course we should look! I wouldn’t put it high on my personal priority list, is all.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 24, 2011 11:46 PM

Speaking of mining btw: don’t miss the Musk interview on Wall Street Journal: ‘I will put a man on Mars in 10 years. Tops 15-20 years.’ It is in the last minutes.

[Also he reveals the inspiration for the movies Tony Stark profile around there.]

Also, SpaceX has a new cool video on Dragon phase 2, when it will land with on board rockets. It’s the CCDev2 video under the Updates tab.

In 10 years Musk will be 50 years. He may make it.

That tears it. Now US _has_ to change the counterproductive “born in this nation” requirement for its presidents. wink

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
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IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
April 25, 2011 12:34 AM

Now US _has_ to change the counterproductive “born in this nation” requirement for its presidents.

Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger for president! wink

postman1
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postman1
April 25, 2011 3:38 AM

Thanks for the heads up on the Musk interview!

johnnymorales
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April 25, 2011 8:01 AM
The notion that any alien race capable of any sort of interstellar travel would consider us an intelligent species is kind of silly. Assuming they are TELEPATHIC neatly explains why we haven’t detected any signs of their existence with our modern tech. Telepathy being generated by the mind of such an advanced species would probably utilize the intergalactic magnetic field to communicate real time or in ways that bypass the limitations of space/ time so they can communicate instantly. This would be possible, because their mind’s like every human being’s mind generates a magnetic field. In both cases we have absolutely nothing that would detect such communications. And we likely won’t have for a long time, thanks to… Read more »
NoAstronomer
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NoAstronomer
April 25, 2011 2:00 PM

Except, of course, that telepathy can’t possibly work.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 25, 2011 3:04 PM

The notion that any alien race capable of any sort of interstellar travel would consider us an intelligent species is kind of silly.

Who were talking about travel?

But since it makes marginally more sense than the rest, I will address it:

No. Intelligence is measured by a set of capacities (such as memory and planning) and we can observe that in other species too.

Uncle Fred
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Uncle Fred
April 25, 2011 8:05 AM
I too agree with the above comments. The probability of conclusively detecting engineering operations on that scale is infinitesimal. The main problem lies in determining what constitutes as an anomalous unnatural observation. Quite frankly, we don’t know enough about extra-solar planetary systems to infer any serious conclusions. Without the proper resolving power, or a detailed study of numerous planetary systems to work with, it is not reasonable to conclude that any strange observations are anything but the result of an unobserved natural phenomenon. I’m also hesitant to made extrapolations of future societies. Particularity, I have issue with the Kardashev Civilization scale system. This system implies that a civilization can use up to 100% of a planet’s energy resources.… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 25, 2011 3:32 PM
We will have to agreeing to disagree on that one. Computational power can be observed as flops (chip capability) – or GHz, but then we are specializing. I haven’t kept up with the flops increase, but I know that the much debated Moore’s law is sub-exponential nowadays because of the effects I discussed (maturity). I.e. it started out with doubling every 12 months, then futurists have had to goalpost move to every 18 months to save “the prediction”. Now the cycle of the industry is a new technique every 2 years, I believe. (From start of development; IIRC Intel keeps a cycle with every 1st year mature technique, every 2nd year mature devices.) What I know Kurzweil patterned… Read more »
Uncle Fred
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Uncle Fred
April 25, 2011 11:11 PM
While I agree Kurweil sits on shaky ground, I still think his basic premise is right, at least in some ways. The link you sent me brought up both issues most people have with his book (though I think the author of that post should have at least bothered to read the book before critiquing). The idea that anything can substitute for an “important technological event,” and that a contemporary hindsight clouds judgement. Both valid objections. However, I think it’s clear that no period of history can account for so many technological changes. Pick any period – any region – and what is happening worldwide now dwarfs anything that has come before. We can argue over specifics in… Read more »
Dark Gnat
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Dark Gnat
April 25, 2011 2:45 PM

I’ve always thought that land-based life might be the a occurance. Aliens worlds with water oceans might be full of life, perhaps even intelligent live, but not much on dry land.

Following this, they may never have bothered to do much astronomy, as being aquatic, they may not even come to the surface or even be able to see stars.

Duncan Lunan
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Duncan Lunan
April 25, 2011 2:49 PM
In the last chapter of my book “Man & the Planets” (1983) I described the discussions held in ASTRA, the Scottish spaceflight society, on ‘The Philosophy of Kardashev-2 Civilisation’. We concluded that a civilisation driven by Malthusian pressures is not ‘in control’ of its matter and energy resources. Control must allow the option of restraint. By that reasoning a Dyson civilisation is not a Kardashev one, especially if it expands blindly to other stars as what Dyson himself called ‘a purposeless technological cancer’. To achieve Kardashev-2 status a civilisation has to be self-sustaining and conservationist, and a Kardashev-3 civilisation is an alliance of K-2’s – gardeners, not inudstrialists. When we look out at the Galaxy, we don’t see… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 25, 2011 4:10 PM
I have difficulties with this: – But _no_ populations are “driven by Malthusian pressures” (famine and disease). Not in nature and not in society. In fact, we are moving away from such constraint every year (more and better food margins, less poverty and disease). Populations are driven by Darwinian pressures (selection) and, yes, there are signs that famine and disease has been constraints at times. Scandinavians have slightly more of an allele contributing to HIV resistance, likely from the scope of “black death” that once put selective pressures on society. Likewise H. sap can be obese to a much higher degree than most other, and similar, animals, which is hypothesized as either sexual selection (eek!) or famine bottlenecks.… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
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Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 25, 2011 4:16 PM

I should note that I’m not entirely sure of my claim on human obesity. But if that isn’t so, the observable effects of famine are less, not worse.

alcyone
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alcyone
April 25, 2011 4:34 PM

“presuming that we can eventually build up a representative database of debris disk characteristics including their density, granularity and chemistry derived from photometric and spectroscopic analysis…”

and the post of Mercury image from NASA

But how can this be if this is “Astronomy Without a Telescope – Alien Mining”? Should just be called “Speculations Without Bothering to Be Accurate or Anything – Alien Mining”.

Nerlich’s article mentions “anthropomorphizing” which helps explain why his articles read thematically more like “infotainment” than anything else. If I want a big dose of “anthropomorph” type stuff, I can surf over to ET from UT anytime.

Dark Gnat
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Dark Gnat
April 25, 2011 9:05 PM

I dunno. If you sprinkle sugar grains on a black surface as randomly as possible. there tends to be patterns in the feild. Humans are really good at picking up visual patterns, even ones that don’t mean anything.

Also, as space is 3-D, these patterns would look quite different from another angle.

Aqua4U
Member
April 25, 2011 6:32 PM
Perhaps evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life is right in front of us? Quite often while observing through my telescope I have noticed what appears to be long trails or tracks of stars. That is to say apparently co-joined lines of stars that appear regularly spaced, of similar luminosity, and in easily observable linear tracks These tracks are not segments of constellations or other known associations but are long, continuous curving arcs and/or straight lines. They are found all over the sky and are usually composed of stars with similar luminosity and color. At frst blush these features appear to be simple chance alignments and/or an artifact of the brain’s tenancy to see patterns in chaos. Then,… Read more »
Karthik Kumar Viswanathan
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Karthik Kumar Viswanathan
April 26, 2011 3:37 AM

I think the best way to do it is visual. Apparently Light IS the BEST KNOWN universal communication medium, and we should use it to the best – video (may be still images), perhaps. No combination of any other signals we send may be easy to send, nor perfectly decodable ….

BTW: If the aliens can’t decode light or sound or electricity, you can’t do ANYTHING.

inbtween
Member
inbtween
April 26, 2011 4:15 AM
I predict that in the next few years we will find reasonable proof that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. Furthermore, I predict it wont be proven by observing things from afar. The proof will come not from our telescopes but from quite a more surprising source, our microscopes (metaphorically speaking of course) http://news.discovery.com/tech/teleport-light-experiment-110418.html As we strive to further develop the ability to teleport atoms as well as light, we will confirm that this is a sound basis for transmitting information across the universe. Like Columbus we will arrive at the shores of a new world only to find out that there are already people there. One should presume that intelligent life has existed for billions of… Read more »
FleetFoot
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FleetFoot
April 26, 2011 7:49 AM

Who can put 2+2 together:

http://newworlds.colorado.edu/

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap001127.html

Could our spectrum be mistaken for natural?

Paul Eaton-Jones
Member
April 26, 2011 11:39 AM

Reading some of these postings makes me long for the days of the ‘sanity’ of Anaconda and Oils.

kehvan
Member
April 26, 2011 5:51 PM

I don’t like the Kardashev scale, because a truly advanced civilization would also understand the concepts of diminishing returns, and would realize the effort that went into harnessing 100% of anything would approach infinity. Are we humans really less than a class 1 civilization? I’d say we’re closer to a type 1 than is being proposed in literature, because we’re very near the point of harnessing a part of the energy of a star, our Sun, using exoatmospheric collectors that will use microwaves to beam energy back to Earth, which would certainly put us in the position of a nascent type 2 civilization.

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