New Strategy Emerges in Search for Aliens: Look for Pollution

New Strategy Emerges in Search for Aliens: Look for Pollution

Researchers have devised a new method of scanning our universe for alien life: looking for pollution.

Theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics believe that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope should be able to detect certain pollutants in alien atmospheres, giving us another way of searching for alien civilizations. Two types of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, should be detectable by the telescope if atmospheric levels are 10 times those of Earth. Commonly known as Freon, CFCs are those aerosol compounds that were phased out under the Montreal Protocol because they deplete the ozone layer.

"People often refer to ETs as 'little green men,' but the ETs detectable by this method should not be labeled 'green' since they are environmentally unfriendly," says Avi Loeb, co-author of a paper on the research.

"We consider industrial pollution as a sign of intelligent life, but perhaps civilizations more advanced than us, with their own SETI programs, will consider pollution as a sign of unintelligent life, since it's not smart to contaminate your own air," says lead author Henry Lin.

The telescope is only powerful enough to detect the CFCs on a planet orbiting a white dwarf star. In the case of a Sun-like star, the atmospheric signal wouldn't be strong enough to detect by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Given some pollutants can remain in our atmosphere for 50,000 years while others last only 10 years, detecting the kinds of pollution can even provide insight into the nature of an alien civilization. For instance, detecting the long-lived pollutants but not the short-lived ones has some obvious implications.

"In that case, we could speculate that the aliens wised up and cleaned up their act. Or in a darker scenario, it would serve as a warning sign of the dangers of not being good stewards of our own planet," says Loeb.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. It's planned launch date is October 2018.

We've already considered the odds of finding intelligent life in our galaxy and addressed the apparent paradox when considering the vastness of the universe in contrast to the lack of evidence of life. If we were to discover an alien civilization, do you think they would pollute more or less than we do? Would they be little green men, or little grey men?

Source: Phys.org

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Rhykker:

"We consider industrial pollution as a sign of intelligent life, but perhaps civilizations more advanced than us, with their own SETI programs, will consider pollution as a sign of unintelligent life, since it's not smart to contaminate your own air," says lead author Henry Lin.

Or they would consider that the civilization has not advanced far enough in power consumption to make "green"energy a possibility. Or a civilization that is not affected by its pollution. Or a civilization unaware of its pollution. There are about a thousand conclusions an advanced civilization can make on pollution of another civilization other than "Um their dumb." Unless that civilization is wired mentally to think in the parameters of their species. Either way, it is complicated.

Or, and now follow me on this...it could mean that in the infinite vastness of space, there exist planets that naturally have such "pollutants" in their atmosphere and either no intelligent life to speak of or life that flourishes with such an atmosphere. I find it strange to assume that CFC's and such on other planets have the same implications as they do on ours.

Just saying. :P

it sounds great at first sight, then one remmebers that aliens may not be humanoid or have same technology path at all. Just becuase we created polition with industrualization does not mean other species need to. for all we know there may be a race out there that runs everything on magnets.

Its also worth pointing out that we got no idea what is pollution to an alien species. thats because we got no idea how the alien species live to begin with. for all we know there could be "intelligent rocks that take 10 human years to have a conversation" and thats an allien lifeform that we will very likely miss entirely.

i mean silicon based lifeforms alone would throw this whole theory out.

RJ 17:
snip

Strazdas:
snip

Came here to say pretty much the same thing as you guys.

Plus this longer term atmospheric pollution only lasts for 50k years - all things considered that's not a big window to spot it.
We can only observe the planets orbiting white dwarfs within a 50k light year radius from Earth - I'm guessing that does narrow the possibilities of finding "intelligent" life quite a bit

NASA has been trying to re-invigorate interest in space travel. The objective of this is not so much to actually find aliens (probably dead ones since the telescope can only detect levels 10* what we currently have) but rather to keep the public, and subsequently the government, invested in their endeavors. In the last few months we've seen a greater volume of fantastical speculation and PR from NASA than we have in the last decade, thats where I draw my conclusions.

At the end of the day it may not be 100% honest but it is a "Nobel lie" as I really want the "whoosh laser ka-pow times" to come sooner rather than later. Mums the word!

Bke:
NASA has been trying to re-invigorate interest in space travel. The objective of this is not so much to actually find aliens (probably dead ones since the telescope can only detect levels 10* what we currently have) but rather to keep the public, and subsequently the government, invested in their endeavors. In the last few months we've seen a greater volume of fantastical speculation and PR from NASA than we have in the last decade, thats where I draw my conclusions.

At the end of the day it may not be 100% honest but it is a "Nobel lie" as I really want the "whoosh laser ka-pow times" to come sooner rather than later. Mums the word!

To be honest, it's probably better to start searching for a new space exploration powerhouse elsewhere entirely.

Because at this rate, and some more administrations who have to feed more money "elsewhere", NASA will become a third rate agency anyway.

One issue I see is that what if the advanced aliens have tech that can cleanse these "long term pollutants" from their atmosphere? Also if all it can look at is planets going around white dwarfs won't the odds be that much lower of finding anything since their habitability band is smaller than a sol type star?

hippie civilizations will slip right under the radar

also, why are those aliens in the pic laughing? nuclear plants release water vapor into the atmosphere, not harmful pollutants, bunch of idiot greenies

Hmmm...an interesting idea.

Of course, no guarantee that they couldn't be formed naturally, or wouldn't be used, but it's something to try.

NuclearKangaroo:
hippie civilizations will slip right under the radar

also, why are those aliens in the pic laughing? nuclear plants release water vapor into the atmosphere, not harmful pollutants, bunch of idiot greenies

Probably because water can hold such a high amount of energie, making water vapor a more potent climate gas then COČ.
Also, they may have found a different use for Uranium and Plutonium, so they may consider splitting thoose elements into lighter ones foolish since there is a limited suply of thoose rare heavy metals.

Lhianon:

NuclearKangaroo:
hippie civilizations will slip right under the radar

also, why are those aliens in the pic laughing? nuclear plants release water vapor into the atmosphere, not harmful pollutants, bunch of idiot greenies

Probably because water can hold such a high amount of energie, making water vapor a more potent climate gas then COČ.
Also, they may have found a different use for Uranium and Plutonium, so they may consider splitting thoose elements into lighter ones foolish since there is a limited suply of thoose rare heavy metals.

im pretty sure thats not how global warminig works

NuclearKangaroo:

Lhianon:

NuclearKangaroo:
hippie civilizations will slip right under the radar

also, why are those aliens in the pic laughing? nuclear plants release water vapor into the atmosphere, not harmful pollutants, bunch of idiot greenies

Probably because water can hold such a high amount of energie, making water vapor a more potent climate gas then COČ.
Also, they may have found a different use for Uranium and Plutonium, so they may consider splitting thoose elements into lighter ones foolish since there is a limited suply of thoose rare heavy metals.

im pretty sure thats not how global warminig works

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
Third sentence: "The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone."
I'm pretty sure that's exactly how climate change works :D

Lhianon:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
Third sentence: "The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone."
I'm pretty sure that's exactly how climate change works :D

So, we need to get rid of all the Water in our Atmosphere? Got it, I'll do my part by breathing deeper. (/Sarcasm)

RJ 17:
Or, and now follow me on this...it could mean that in the infinite vastness of space, there exist planets that naturally have such "pollutants" in their atmosphere and either no intelligent life to speak of or life that flourishes with such an atmosphere. I find it strange to assume that CFC's and such on other planets have the same implications as they do on ours.

I agree, we can't assume that all life we come across is the same as our own. For all we know, the Aliens are actually like Neanderthals that simply Fart out Freon into their atmosphere, and it's either not harmful to their planet, or it's so minute that it's not doing too much damage to their planet.

And the person that originally wrote the Article (Not this Article, the Article it links to) sounds like a pompous jerk. "Aliens are going to look down on us because we're all polluters, (Snort)". At least that's the vibe I got from reading it...

Again...a great idea but it again falls short... Pollution is a relative term. I mean if the species breathes methane well then what you call pollution is actually a healthy atmosphere.

Then there's Venus, I mean what would a pollution check score that planet as I mean it's pretty much green house gasses. DOes that mean it's got or had a rich civilization? Not likely. See it's hard to distinguish pollution from you know.. natural atmospheric conditions and since life evolves to thrive in what ever environment, our pollution could be another species' oxygen.

Not a bad idea really but again... it falls short on the first hurdle of looking for alien life... that the life is indeed going to be alien to us. We can't use the logic that would find ourselves so to speak, because there is a very good chance that we are unique. Not that we are the only intelligent life but that we might be the only carbon-based, oxygen breathing, water dependent, intelligent life forms that are adapted to a planet just like ours.

If there's life out there...there is a very good chance that none of those descriptors that apply to us.. will apply to it.

So how do we search for intelligent life.. well the answer is surprisingly low tech and less exciting.

Rockets...fire a probe off towards any prospective planet and wait a few thousand years. The probe would contain helpful information like the location of our system relative to theirs, and what might be considered a basic rosetta stone type book.

See, the first idea is that intelligent life will always be able to discern the difference between something natural or crafted. Bolts and rivets do not form naturally. Problem is of course with distances being what they are, the civilization that sent fired those probes out would not be the civilization to get the reply. I mean it'd take a few thousand years to get to the nearest star that way and honestly human history tells us that we are very bad at preserving data across epochs. Heck the dominant language shifts every few centuries.

Mr.Mattress:

Lhianon:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
Third sentence: "The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone."
I'm pretty sure that's exactly how climate change works :D

So, we need to get rid of all the Water in our Atmosphere? Got it, I'll do my part by breathing deeper. (/Sarcasm)

-snip-

That's neither what i wrote nor what i implied. Yes, water vapor is a natural occuring climate gas, but so is COČ.
The problem is not how much vapor gets released by natural processes but the additional vapor released by humans. Water, in liquid or gaseous form, can store a lot of energy in the form of heat, that's why we use it to cook and exactly the reason we use it to cool nuclear plants. The more evaporated water there is in the atmosphere the more heat the atmosphere can store, making it a potent climate gas.
Without natural occurring climate gases, the average temperature on earth would be ~14 degrees Celsium less, making them valuable regulators and a counterweight to the cooling effect of OČ. The above mentioned gases are not "bad" in themself, it is the quantity in which they exist that can scew the climate in one or the other direction. Similar, the natural occurring amount of methane is not a problem, it is the additional methane released by human activies.

Lhianon:

Mr.Mattress:

So, we need to get rid of all the Water in our Atmosphere? Got it, I'll do my part by breathing deeper. (/Sarcasm)

-snip-

That's neither what i wrote nor what i implied. SNIP

No, I know, I was just joking, sorry if I sounded rude.

Lhianon:

NuclearKangaroo:

Lhianon:

Probably because water can hold such a high amount of energie, making water vapor a more potent climate gas then COČ.
Also, they may have found a different use for Uranium and Plutonium, so they may consider splitting thoose elements into lighter ones foolish since there is a limited suply of thoose rare heavy metals.

im pretty sure thats not how global warminig works

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
Third sentence: "The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone."
I'm pretty sure that's exactly how climate change works :D

uhmm kay i stand corrected then

but doesnt that vapor precipitate tough? shouldnt it eventually turn into rain? as opposed to methane and other chemicals that are normally found as a gas

NuclearKangaroo:
hippie civilizations will slip right under the radar

also, why are those aliens in the pic laughing? nuclear plants release water vapor into the atmosphere, not harmful pollutants, bunch of idiot greenies

LOL

Well clearly, these are the aliens from Signs, so they think that water vapor is harmful. /JUSTIFIED :)

NuclearKangaroo:

uhmm kay i stand corrected then

?
Aliens laughing at cooling towers might have something to do with 'ZOmg! they're still on fission, not even zero-point energy yet?!?!?! Crazy primitives!'

NuclearKangaroo:

but doesnt that vapor precipitate tough? shouldnt it eventually turn into rain? as opposed to methane and other chemicals that are normally found as a gas

Yes.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11652-climate-myths-co2-isnt-the-most-important-greenhouse-gas.html#.U9FDc_mzERI

theluckyjosh:

NuclearKangaroo:

uhmm kay i stand corrected then

?
Aliens laughing at cooling towers might have something to do with 'ZOmg! they're still on fission, not even zero-point energy yet?!?!?! Crazy primitives!'

i mean he schooled me hard, i got served harder than a rich guy in butler island

theluckyjosh:

NuclearKangaroo:

but doesnt that vapor precipitate tough? shouldnt it eventually turn into rain? as opposed to methane and other chemicals that are normally found as a gas

Yes.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11652-climate-myths-co2-isnt-the-most-important-greenhouse-gas.html#.U9FDc_mzERI

oh, i was right then, yay!

Lhianon:

NuclearKangaroo:

Lhianon:

Probably because water can hold such a high amount of energie, making water vapor a more potent climate gas then COČ.
Also, they may have found a different use for Uranium and Plutonium, so they may consider splitting thoose elements into lighter ones foolish since there is a limited suply of thoose rare heavy metals.

im pretty sure thats not how global warminig works

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
Third sentence: "The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone."
I'm pretty sure that's exactly how climate change works :D

I'm pretty sure that's not how climate change works. For one, if you read the article you linked beyond the third sentence, right in the "Role of water vapour" section it's stated explicitly that artificial sources of water vapor are negligible.

As for your point about water "holding a high amount of energy", I guess you are referring to it's high heat capacity. A higher value of heat capacity means for a given amount of absorbed heat the temperature of the substance rises less than it would for a material with a lower heat capacity. Also, it has nothing to do with the material's ability to absorb radiation.

The property of materials that do effect its ability to absorb EM radiation largely depend on the wavelength of the radiation. For example, IR radiation effects molecules with a nonzero dipole moment. UV/VIS, in contrast, reacts well with the pi-bonds and non bonding electrons in molecules. In the former case IR causes the bonds to resonate (stretch/twist/waggle etc) and heat up, while UV/VIS excites the pi bond or non bonding electrons in a higher energy state, radiating the absorbed energy as the electron returns to a non-excited state.
Spectroscopy itself is a complex field, and climate science is handling a subject more complex yet, crossing over to many other fields. I don't claim to understand much of it myself.

Besides, seeing the chimneys behind the cooling towers, I would guess the picture is of a coal plant, not a nuclear power station.

 

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