Russia Proposes Mission to Search for Evidence of Astroengineering

[/caption]It is probably the most seductive urge for mankind: search for extraterrestrial life. There are many ways to look for life; from digging into the Martian dirt with robotic landers looking for pre-biotic compounds, to building vast radio antennae to “listen” out for distant communications either leaked or transmitted deliberately from a distant star system from a developed, intelligent civilization. However, despite our best efforts, we appear to be the only form of life for hundreds of lightyears around. It is eerily quiet out there

Although we appear to be drawing blanks so far, it doesn’t stop us from trying to work out what we should be looking for. In the quest to find a vastly advanced alien civilization, a forthcoming Russian space telescope hopes to bridge the gap between science fiction and science fact, attempting to find evidence (or lack thereof) of observable attempts of astroengineering by an alien race…

New and exciting ways are being formulated to work out whether intelligent life does exist beyond our blue oasis. Programs such as the famous Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (METI) and the tongue-in-cheek Wait for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (WETI) are conceived to somehow interact with a sufficiently advanced alien culture (one that has the ability to communicate via radio, at least). In an engrossing entry I read in last week’s Carnival of Space Week 86, Dr Bruce Cordell (21st Century Waves) discussed the apparent paradox between UFOs and Fermi’s Paradox (in a nutshell: if aliens have visited our planet, as UFO sightings would lead us to believe, why haven’t we intercepted any kind of signal via SETI?). I was most interested with Cordell’s thoughts on optical communications that could be used by extraterrestrials to communicate with a pre-radio communication human era. Apparently, in 40 years, mankind could be generating very bright signals using 30 terrawatt optical beacons for pre-radio civilizations to see over 10 light years away, brighter than their brightest star. If there are advanced civilizations out there, why have we not seen their optical transmissions?

To summarize, we are a little confused by the lack of life in our Universe (intelligent life in any case).

So, perhaps we can find other ways to spy on our hypothetical alien neighbours. Could we build a powerful telescope to seek out structures built by alien civilizations? Possibly, according to a forthcoming Russian space-based telescope project: The Millimetron Space Telescope.

On reading an article about this subject on the Daily Galaxy, I thought I’d heard of something like this before. Sure enough, during my research on the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, IRAS (surrounding the whole Planet X controversy), I found out that work was being done to try to find the infrared signature of the hypothetical Dyson Sphere. The Dyson Sphere is a theorised example of an astroengineered structure by a significantly advanced alien race. There are many variations on this theme, including science fiction ideas of an engineered “ring” straddling a host star (as pictured top). In the case of the Dyson Sphere, this megastructure would generate infrared radiation, and analysis of IRAS data has been done to establish an upper limit on the existence of these objects. So far, no Dyson Sphere candidates have been found (within 300 light-years from Earth in any case).

To build on the IRAS survey, in 2017, Russia hopes to launch the Millimetron to observe distant stellar systems in millimeter, sub-millimeter and infrared wavelengths. This instrument has a long list of aims, but one of the extreme results that could come from this project is the detection of astroengineered megastructures.

The goal of the project is to construct space observatory operating in millimeter, sub-millimeter and infrared wavelength ranges using 12-m cryogenic telescope in a single-dish mode and as an interferometer with the space-ground and space-space baselines (the later after the launch of the second identical space telescope). The observatory will provide possibility to conduct astronomical observations with super high sensitivity (down to nanoJansky level) in a single dish mode, and observations with super high angular resolution in an interferometric mode. – The Millimetron Project.

By combining the orbiting telescope with observatories on the ground, it may be possible to create a very long baseline interferometer (VLBI) with huge baselines beyond 300,000km. This will provide unprecedented angular resolution. Alone, the large 12 metre dish will allow astronomers to probe emissions at the nano-Jansky level, where radio astronomers usually operate from <1-100 Janskys (the Jansky is a non-SI measurement of electromagnetic flux density).* With a system like this, very weakly radiating sources may be detected, possibly revealing structures such as the Dyson Sphere, or possibly sci-fi concepts like Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”.

Although I am dubious as to whether our persistent efforts to find intelligent extraterrestrial life will ever turn up positive, the search is exciting and certainly boosts the scientific process in directions we wouldn’t have necessarily examined…

Sources: The Millimetron Project, Daily Galaxy

*Thanks to Don Alexander for tightening up a couple of points in this article

33 Replies to “Russia Proposes Mission to Search for Evidence of Astroengineering”

  1. I suppose its possible we could turn our telescope towards a star and see some very visible alien construct that proves everything… but that seems unlikely.

    A ring world, should someone relatively nearby have bothered to build one, could be as wide as planet earth and still look like a fishing line hula-hoop being slung around the belly of a fat woman.
    A structure within range of our telescopes would have to be insanely, unrealistically, big in order to be visible as more than a spec of dust… presuming whoever built it wanted it to be found in the first place and didn’t use some tactic for camouflage.

    Its a nice challenge to attempt a search, but I wouldn’t waste too much time on it.

  2. Scientists have found ways to make invisible metamaterials. But I’m sure an alien race with a megaton dayson sphere wouldn’t think of that.

  3. My question is, assuming aliens have the technology to build megastructures around their own star, why don’t they build megastructures around ALL the stars. More stars = more resources on which to survive. In short, why isn’t the Sun already covered with a Dyson sphere (realistically, a Dyson swarm, since a Dyson shell is likely impossible to build)?

    Most likely answer, in opinion: there just isn’t anyone else. Of course, I would love to be proved wrong, but at this point, it does seem the most likely state of affairs.

  4. Two notes to Ian:

    1) the length of the VLBI baseline has nothing to do with the sensitivity, only with angular resolution. Just the opposite, VLBI requires bright sources, because high signal-to-noise is needed for interferometry.

    2) Sources in the > 1 Jy range are extremely bright. Modern radio telescopes like the VLA routinely reach down to tens of microJy. (Though nanoJy is an ambitious goal and beyond today’s instruments, I think.)

    Also, the Russians always have such cute English… 😀

  5. I think there maybe a few simple reasons why we haven’t heard from ET’s. Either, their technology isn’t as advanced as ours(still working with the old rock on a stick) or it’s far to advanced. If that’s the case, it might/would be like searching for a wi-fi signal in the middle of Manhattan with a child’s walkie-talkie(The signals are everywhere we just haven’t got the right tech).

    It would be nice if the idea worked though. Just have to wait and see.

  6. Why would any intelligent civilization want to associate themselves with us? Upon contact, half the planet would probably kill themselves and the other half would probably go into attack mode.

    There are many intelligent people, but humans as a race are far from it.

  7. Are we stark raving mad!!!. I do not beleive that there is any intelligent life out there if indeed there is any life at all. But supposing there is intelligent life out there and it is far more advanced than ours. Supposing that they also live on a nice habitable water rich world similar to ours and are looking for another. Well here we are proposing to advertise ourselves and our nice blue planet to an alien race that may not be friendly, may infact think of us as vermin to be liquidated. We should keep quiet, develop our potential and spend all available resources on firstly colonising the Moon and Mars, developing a defensive posture just in case and then maybe seek out other alien cultures. We might then survive.

  8. “Although I am dubious as to whether our persistent efforts to find intelligent extraterrestrial life will ever turn up positive…”

    Shouldn’t you qualify that to say “in our lifetimes”?

    As a species we’ve only been around a for a tiny nano-miniscule fraction of the age of the universe, and our technical capabilities to search for other life have existed for but the blink of an eye. Yet the leaps in knowledge are coming faster every year.

    I’m old enough to remember that in the 1970’s computers with the ability to process lists and do basic math and nothing more occupied an entire floor at major corporations and required a PhD to find the “ON/OFF” switch. At the pace we are learning (assuming we don’t kill ourselves off first), the things we will discover in the next 100 years and beyond will boggle the mind.

    Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws of prediction say it best:

    1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    The last one is the most important. Even if the earth was being literally bombarded with signals from other civilizations but with technology we can’t even begin to imagine yet., how would we know?

  9. Expanding on # (3) of what Geokstr posted.

    We would see this technology as natural occurrences in the Universe, not realizing that they were the works of a civilization, perhaps, millions of years ahead of us.

    Much like an ant observing the launching of a space shuttle. 🙂

  10. If we are not alone, then among the races of the galaxy we are in our base infancy. Until we learn some manners and figure out how to deal with conflict, and until we figure out how to live a life of purpose when advanced tech takes the struggle out of life, I suspect that the advanced races want nothing to do with us.

    If we are alone, then the universe is a sad place.

  11. I don’t think advanced ETI are “snubbing” us deliberately so much as we simply do not stand out in a galaxy with 400 billion stars 100,000 light years across.

    Our electromagnetic signals have filled a sphere from our system only 200 light years across, and most of them are weak compared to the natural background radio noise. We haven’t sent out anything of significance in the other regions of the spectrum to gain galactic notice, either.

    Advanced ETI may be able to detect certain signatures of life from our planet at interstellar distances, but if many worlds have life as well and most of them are of the simple variety as many Rare Earthers say, then that alone won’t be getting us a welcoming committee from the Galactic Empire, either.

    Look at a photo of the Milky Way sometime, especially of the core. Now you try to find a planet with intelligent beings on it from that.

    We think we’re so darn important that the Cosmos has to come check us out, but the scary truth is, we aren’t even a blip on anyone or anything’s radar, and we won’t be until we start becoming a truly cosmic species.

  12. Is this a proposal by “the Russians” or by “a Russian”? I skimmed the article but did not see who is the actual proposer. It is one thing if it is a proposal of the Russian federal space agency, quite another if it is a proposal from Energia or one of the other major contractors (who have proposed many forward-thinking projects in hopes that they would get funded), and yet another if it is from a investigator hoping to attract some official attention and endorsement.

  13. There’s no telling where we sit on the technological scale. For all we know “they’re made of meat” might be the most accurate portrayal of whats taken place… or advanced life might be so sporadic that we simply weren’t born near any other species capable of gaping these distances.

    My pet theory is that (so far as society goes) there is no perfect solution and no one has, or ever will, find one.
    Whats true for us may be true for them too. Meaning that we should be a tad paranoid about the prospects of discovering anyone or anything out there.

    In that same light, they may not know about us but have taken precautions not to meet us (or anyone else) by keeping their chatter down and constructs disguised.

    Someone best described our situation as being in the dark in central park after midnight, then hearing a blood curdling scream.
    Do you turn on a flashlight and go looking for the source? ..or hunker down and pretend to be as insignificant as possible.

    Someone with the technology to build a massive star sized structure has probably wondered about the attention it might bring…

  14. If you can build a Dyson Shell, who else do you have to worry about besides another group of Dyson Shell builders? Everyone else is way below on the food chain.

  15. Hmmm… do we know enough to say there’s not something nastier than Dyson Swarm makers? There’s also the argument that making a Dyson swarm is self-limiting due to the collision avoidance needed past a certain density of habitats. Personally I think Fermi is telling us that ETIs are either spread very thin, we’ve arrived early in cosmic time, or there’s some place better than our Universe to be when you hit a certain stage.

  16. I read a book about this like super intelligent creature once, the book was called the Bible. But since it was all in metaphor to make it easy for my primitive ancestors to understand I didn’t get much out of it.

    Now I apologize I honestly don’t have any inkling to try and instigate anything with that statement, but I agree that our best bet at this point is to try and focus on our colony here on earth and make it safe and productive for the rest of our species, while continuing to better understand our immediate neighborhood the Solar System.

    Our Curiosity is certainly piqued by the prospect of Extra Terrestrial Life and I have Faith that it does exist despite the apparent lack of evidence, but I think that we need to honestly consider the profound effect such a discovery will inevitably have on our species. Individually we are gifted and intelligent, collectively we are amorphous and nonsensical.

    “Not only is the Universe stranger than we Imagine, it is stranger than we can Imagine.”

    ~Sir Arthur Eddington~

  17. That quote was by J. B. S. Haldane and he used the term queerer instead of stranger, but that has been changed in recent years due to the other meaning of that word.

    You can hide under your bed and hope the aliens don’t bother us, Silver Thread, but the Universe will find us eventually, or there will be some group that dares to go out there and meet the neighbors.

    I am sure there were once apelike creatures living in Africa who thought the few who decided to leave the trees for the open fields were crazy if not outright dangerous.

  18. Huygens Says:
    I am sure there were once apelike creatures living in Africa who thought the few who decided to leave the trees for the open fields were crazy if not outright dangerous.

    That is a kick ass statement and can also be applied to manned spaceflight today as well as saying hello to possible neighbours in space.

    Lets get out there (space) shall we. 🙂

  19. …and I’m sure there were a few south Americans and Indians that wish they had been more cautious about welcoming the Europeans.

    I’m not against spaceflight in the least. I figure its far better to meet aliens out there (and get a few years head start on figuring out their game) than have them stumble on us in our only refuge here.

    Likewise, to take the aliens mindset, they would probably be leery about leaving any billboards to their presence.

    Its simply wise policy when you’re living in a strange town where you don’t know the neighbors.

  20. Rey – It was the Russians who got America going into space in the first place by their boldness while the West was still thinking of spaceflight as science fiction (one English astronomer called space travel “utter bilge” in 1956 – he got a bit of a surprise the next year with Sputnik 1).

    If it hadn’t been for the USSR goading the USA into action, regardless of their political philosophy, we would probably still be talking about sending astronauts to the Moon one day, just like we still are with manned mission to Mars.

    Maxwell – I am sure you know those residents of North and South America originally came from Africa and Asia as well.

    And I am tired of the PC police pretending that Native Americans were nature and peace-loving saints who never harmed a fly before the Europeans came along. Even their religions tended to be as bloody if not moreso than the West.

    There is one definite rule in the Universe: Survival of the fittest. Even if there are highly advanced and enlightened beings who are totally at peace, they got that way by removing the competition to ensure their security in one manner or another.

    We have to get rid of the ancient view that the heavens are pure and perfect and only Earth is corrupted and imperfect. It is a jungle everywhere out there and if we want to survive to become the New Age angels we think exist in the Cosmos, we better secure our place in the galaxy sooner rather than later – or enjoy being a footnote in galactic history, if that.

  21. @Huygens
    I believe that gets to the point I’m trying to make. Those who have the power are going to go out and make themselves known, enforce their rules, and deal with anything they deem a threat.

    …but what about those who don’t?

    The Indians, mighty warriors as they were, found themselves dealing with a technologically superior neighbor who had motivations they couldn’t fully understand.
    They were in mortal danger the whole time and didn’t realize that until it was too late to do anything about it.

    Since in this case you’ll never have an assurance that your the biggest, meanest, dog on the block. I’d recommend a perpetual state of paranoia as the best defense.

    The discovery of an object, one so audacious you can see it several light years away, is not exactly a good thing.
    The Happy thoughts will last about 30 seconds before the full implications sink into our leaders minds. Then its probably radio darkness for us until we figure out the spaceflight game.

  22. I recommend not only paranoia but being proactive on a galactic scale.

    Advanced ETI bent on removing the competition will find us if they haven’t already from the various life signatures our planet has been giving off for a long time, even way before we started spewing our bad TV and radio into space.

    As the old phrase goes, better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

    Those who focus on the literally wider picture (the Universe) are still in the minority. We must strive to change this. Our very lives as a species depend on it.

  23. Eventually, I believe, we’re going to have to escape the Little Green Men mindset. Most likely we’re surrounded by higher intelligence of various sorts but are too ignorant to see it or communicate with it. If we keep looking for life similar to our own, we’re probably going to be waiting a long, long while.

    Looking at our own planet, for instance, which is brimming with life, there is exactly one species that is like us, which is us. If we spent all our time looking for another species like us, we’d never find it. However, if we broadened our search criteria, we’d be pleasantly surprised and fascinated by what “intelligent life” really means.

  24. It’s a gamble.
    To be fair all a space critter really needs is escape velocity and some means to survive long voyages in a void. Warp drives and star fleet uniforms optional.

    I’d make the argument that its alot easier to colonize the galaxy through the use of brute force and ignorance.
    A heaping helping of amorality surely must reduce the paperwork.

  25. Actually, the biggest and fittest are the first to die in wars and are the first species to go extinct. The dinosaurs are gone and so are many huge soldiers that made easy targets for enemies to shoot.

    Yet I admit that the wording can be taken several ways. “Fit” needs to be defined. Fish are the fittest to survive underwater. The insect world would likely survive a global nuclear holocaust.

    And there are those who survived because they decided not to own anything worth taking.

    There are even prejudices that have distorted history to suit a political view, whether it be liberal or conservative. It has been repeated globally that hunters/gatherers who refused to participate in the neolilthic revolution did so out of ignorance and fell behind the rest technologically. This is false. The ancient Greeks did not settle in Greece by invading from any neighboring lands at all. The ancient Greeks were hunters/gatherers would migrated waters in the Mediterranean, Africa and Europe and settled in Anatolia. They established the basis for their thinking from their survival in the waters which took a more advanced culture than those who chose to survive on land.

  26. Not finding ET could mean two things:
    1) Cover and concealment, a populated hostile Universe.
    2) We are the only life that has achieved this level of technological prowess.

  27. Then there’s the question, “Is there intelligent life on Earth?” Bull sessions like this are just fine, but I don’t think we know how to ask the right questions yet, let alone what they are.

  28. We might also ask the quesiton, “Have there been civilizations on Earth before humanity made the scene?” Actually, if you’re referring to technologically endowed species, at least Bronze-Age or even Iron-Age level, there is a way: look for rock strata containing high levels of admixtures of tin, copper, lead, and maybe iron. We’ve found such admixtures in ice cores from Greenland going back to the Old Roman Empire, and under certain circumstances these could be sequestered in soils that eventually become rock. High amounts of these elements in relatively pure form in admixtures in ancient rock would be like nothing ever found in undisturbed nature, and would simply scream, “ARTIFICIAL!” But because people think of artifacts as objects like pottery, spears, or the remains of boats and ships, they might not even notice something like such rock samples, which are also artifacts of civilization, but not the sort we usually think of as such. Similarly, when we talk about whether there is other intelligent, technologically endowed life out there, the ways we come up for finding it are generally not the best, whereas we overlook the best ones entirely, because we aren’t thinking about such things. Rock endures, pottery doesn’t, at least over ranges of more than a million years. Analogously, what might we find out there that’s clearly not of natural origin, but not necessarily what we usually think of when we say “artificial”?

  29. We should look for Matrioshka brains forming. Stars would gradually look redder and redder until they’re the color of the cosmic background radiation. Or slightly warmer.

  30. Look, its a fair bet that there is alien life, intelligent alien life out there, but i doubt we will ever be able to communicate with them in any way, the universe is simply too big. and as for this dyson sphere buisness, it just seems like wild speculation, ”maybe the made a megastructure we can detect”, maybe they left a huge turd flouting in space for us to appreciate.

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