ET can be found - professor

2011-11-18 08:05

Cape Town - A clue in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence could be artificial structures in space and around stars that astronomers would recognise, an expert has said.

"There are other types of artificial signatures of alien technology that we might look for," Professor Paul Davies told News24.

Davies is the chair of the Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence): Post-Detection Science and Technology Taskgroup of the International Academy of Astronautics and a professor at Arizona State University.

He said that in the same way that an extraterrestrial intelligence could tell that there was life on Earth, we could identify structures in space that would give away the presence of "ET".

"For example, large scale astro-engineering projects. On Earth, human beings have impacted on their environment. From a thousand light years away, ET can tell that we're burning fossil fuels because global warming will be detectable."

Dyson sphere

Man-made global warming is a result of human impact on the planet for only the last 100 years, and Davies suggested that an ancient civilisation might have made a bigger impact on their planet and solar system.

"You might imagine that a civilisation that's been around tens of millions of years might not only have impacted its planetary environment, but its entire astronomical neighbourhood in some way," he said.

He cited the theory of the Dyson sphere first proposed by physicist Freeman Dyson in 1960.

Dyson's theory suggested that a civilisation would use planetary material or orbiting structures to surround its host star to capture all of its energy as the energy demands of the home planet outstripped supply.

Davies said that astronomers would be able to detect such a sphere if it existed, but that current attempts were limited by technology and funding.

"It's a big universe out there and you can only search into a certain limited level of precision."

Instead, Davies said that an easier way to search for extraterrestrial intelligence was to look for evidence closer to home.

Time scales

"But there's another strategy entirely that we could adopt. That is, we could start searching a bit closer to home; it's easier to search in our astronomical backyard for evidence of ET.

"In this game, you have to think of very large amounts of space, but also very large amounts of time.

"The universe is 13.7 billion years old so there's been plenty of time for stars and planets to form and for life to emerge long before Earth even existed. So you have to think on an immense time scales," he said.

Davies suggested that if alien beings had visited the Earth in its history, it is likely to have been in prehistoric times, given the age of the Earth of 4.7 billion years.

"It's a favourite science fiction theme; it's a favourite of conspiracy theorists who think we are being visited now, but I come back to this point: We have to think of immense time scales.

"So what alien footprint might survive 100 million years? I came up with three things that we might actually still find after a 100 million years."

He said that if we could find evidence that would not degrade over a long period of time, we could identify clues of an alien visitation.

Alien visitation

"One of these is nuclear waste; famously it would last for almost an eternity. If ET had used spacecraft or nuclear fuel or had been doing some nuclear technology and dumped that stuff, we could find it.

"It turns out that there is nuclear waste - two billion years old nuclear waste - in West Africa, in Gabon. It's a uranium mine and it was discovered some years ago.

"This uranium deposit went critical some two billion years ago and nobody's suggesting that this is some extraterrestrial technology... but you get the point - that we have discovered a nuclear [waste site] two billion years old," Davies said.

He also said that large-scale mining activity could suggest an ancient alien visitation.

"The second thing is any sort of large quarrying or mining activity especially on nearby bodies, but even on Earth. In principle we could find buried quarries or mines right here on Earth, but they would stand out much more - especially on the moon."

On Earth, weathering and erosion makes the identification of ancient rock formations difficult.

There is debate, for example, among experts on whether the submarine Yonaguni Monument which was discovered in the 1980s off Japan is artificial.


On the moon where there is no atmosphere, quarrying activity should be easily exposed.

"There's one place we can look really rather effortlessly - and that is on the moon. There's a satellite called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that's currently mapping the moon, which at a half metre resolution which is pretty good," said Davies.

He added that if indeed ancient aliens had visited Earth, they could have implanted a message in our genetic code that we would only be able to decipher when the technology was advanced enough to accomplish it.

Davies has had a long career in theoretical physics, cosmology and astrobiology, and has authored several books, from The Physics of Time Asymmetry in 1974 to, most recently, The Eerie Silence.

In his role for Seti, he is tasked with proposing policies when contact is made with an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation and has an asteroid 6870 Pauldavies, named after him.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

  • rowen.loretz - 2011-11-18 08:28

    I havent seen ET yet. i think this professor smokes dagga

      Merven - 2011-11-18 09:34

      Turn on your tv to see ET! He is called Malema!!

      wesley.bischoff - 2011-11-18 11:34

      And so what if he does? Do some research... marijuana doesn't make you hallucinate. The universe is beyond huge, and we have only been looking for the past 60 years.... the search has just begun. Go check out this site and you will get some perspective:

      Travis - 2011-11-18 13:29

      Cool link Wesley, puts things into perspective for the straight up "non-believers"(not saying I believe, I am just open minded to the concept). I am not saying there is aliens, but the sheer scale of the universe, and the scale of time the universe is predicted to exist, surely increases the odds that something is out there...Not saying they ever came to earth or are intelligent life either....just saying that nobody know what is happening on the otherside of the universe....There are probbably more undicovered elements out there as well, our periodic table is more than likely limited to the elements found on earth.

      rowen.loretz - 2011-11-18 15:25

      As far as I understand, aliens are most likely extra-dimensional beings...not intergalactic. We need to look at the micro level and not the macro level ( as scientist's are doing) . The laws of physics are not constant...and nothing in the universe constant. If aliens exist , which could be a possibility, I would imagine them travelling in between different dimensions...our reality , is not there reality.....

      rowen.loretz - 2011-11-18 15:28

      There are so many scientists and people coming up with so many theories and ideas, it is just impossible to know who is right and who is wrong. We humans still have not had concrete proof of there existence...

      rowen.loretz - 2011-11-18 15:38

      I have a yotube link that proves that aliens exist . WARNING - the truth may hurt

      Travis - 2011-11-18 18:19

      "It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain thought without accepting it" - Aristotle Boooya!!!

  • raath - 2011-11-18 08:46

    I found ET. It is in the 80's sci-fi section at Block Busters.

  • raath - 2011-11-18 08:47

    And why are we spending so much time and money looking for intelligence in outer space, when we are yet to find some on Earth?

      Stephen - 2011-11-18 11:07

      so true,

      Travis - 2011-11-18 12:58

      Cause they can

  • VWhitepaw - 2011-11-18 08:56

    To those that state there is no aliens I would request, proof it. To state that earth is the only planet that has intelligent life, I see as short sighted. The chance of live being out their is a fraction of a percent. But with so many planets out there that fraction of a percent does add up. But are they more advanced than we are? Think about this, there are some that believe we could have been much more advanced than we currently are. This is in reference to events in history, including the lost of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. Myths told of advances in this library that was lost for hundreds of years only to be rediscovered. Stuff like the earth being round.

      Chrono - 2011-11-18 09:24

      I am still open about the possibility about alien life. What is very interesting to me are several features of our planet without which life would not be possible. I just wonder if it is at all possible that these may occur together in another planet or whether there may be other features that would also sustain perhaps totally different life forms; forms that we may not even be able to detect. Amongst others, critical features that make life on earth possible, are: its melten core; the size and proximity of its moon; 2 deep sea "cavities" that exist to (1) transport solid waste back to the core of the earth for recycling (2) desalinate ocean water; the nature of physical laws, e.g. gravity - if the 17th decimal of the gravitational law is altered by one digit life would be impossible. These and quite a few more features of mother earth have convinced me that life did not merely "emerge" as Davies wants it. That of course does not mean that life does not exist elsewhere.

      Stephen - 2011-11-18 11:17

      @Chrono, also, our star aint typical, most are part of multiple systems, planets don’t go round them in circles, therefore no liquid water. We might be very special. Another thing, there’s been life on earth for what? Hundreds of millions of years, only in the last few centuries has it showed any signs of intelligence; we might be a miracle on top of a miracle.

  • moneyluck - 2011-11-18 09:34

    I would send a high caliber neutron bomb into space and detonate it when it got to the edge of the galaxy ,kind of like a flair out in the open dessert.I kind don't like the idea though of messing with aliens our whole perception of reality could change if these Aliens come our way they might not value life in the way we do.You can't expect that they'll be nice and wanting to help us they might be highly intelligent killers they might mess with our earth and make it explode I'm getting dizzy that's enough of that.

      raath - 2011-11-18 10:14

      Dude, you don't want a flare in a dessert. You'll have ice cream and custard and all kinds of sweet stuff scattered all over the room :p What if said aliens think that your neutron bomb is an act of war?

      Stephen - 2011-11-18 11:18

      They can't value life less than us.

      Klipkop - 2011-11-18 11:42

      Dude, the neutron bomb needs air molecules to explode. Your bomb in space will look and sound the same as when i light my braai fire, at best.

      raath - 2011-11-18 12:11

      A neutron bomb will have a fuel source, so you don't need air. In fact, an explosion in an atmosphere will actually reduce the net-effect, as neutrons are absorbed by air molecules.

      Klipkop - 2011-11-18 12:33

      Thanks Raath, coolio.

  • Fredster69 - 2011-11-18 09:43

    Aliens and ET lives in Hollywood guys. Find them there

      jody.beggs - 2012-11-15 20:32

      Just like god is just in a book ! Unless yo can prove otherwise ...

  • Spiral - 2011-11-18 10:01

    judging by the picture, they've already found ET

  • somacaulay - 2011-11-18 10:36

    What a waste of technology.

      Travis - 2011-11-18 18:37

      I see your point where waste comes in. But I find it extremely thought provoking. Imagine nobody ever studied the stars and we never really new what they were and how they got there? It's mans gift to be able to discover these such otherwise undiscoverable places and secrets. I would rather someone be looking than nobody even trying, and just living a life of naivity at the things you cannot fathom....I posted it earlier..... "It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain thought without accepting it" - Aristotle

      somacaulay - 2011-11-19 00:21

      I agree, it would be silly to not at least try looking. I find studying stars totally acceptable, because it is fact they are there for all to see. I also don't mind them looking for signs of life on other planets if they just do it on the backburner. But to always be creating new ways to look for something they haven't found, which IF doesn't exist, they will never find and never ever stop looking - to me a waste. If they do find something, what are they going to make of it and what can we even do about it? Use millions/billions of dollars just to stare at a possible mining colony? We have so many problems of our own here that could use new technology to fix that needs to be on the forefront.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-11-18 10:38

    With less than 18 months before the next Pole Shift you would expect the authorities and professional scientific to start telling the truth, a large number of the population already knows about. It such a shame that so many intelligent and potentially useful people are automatically disqualifying themselves from post PS society.

      Thermophage - 2012-11-15 15:17

      18 months you say? How the hell did you arrive at that? I'd love to know about your serious advances in technology that you can predict this with such accuracy...?

  • Gaby - 2011-11-18 10:44

    "Intelligent" life would not breed like flies & consume every resource like us parasitic humans.

      Stephen - 2011-11-18 11:21

      I agree, we can't describe ourselves as intelligent yet.

  • Stephen - 2011-11-18 11:05

    I get the feeling that we are on the verge of discovering that we are very much alone.

      thelittlegreenhouse - 2011-11-18 15:49

      That is exactly what is happening here. Programs such as these are forever begging for larger budgets, to fund more powerful equipment, in order to grow the loneliness of those who refuse to believe in a personal and infinite God Who is not silent but has revealed enough of Himself

  • Stephen - 2011-11-18 11:38

    Davies also questions a deeper assumption. Must life always evolve on planets that can support it? This was the view of astronomer Carl Sagan, famous for the 1980 television series Cosmos and as author of Contact, a novel about a successful SETI search that was filmed with Jodie Foster. Not only is life inevitable if the conditions are right, said Sagan but, given long enough, it must always give rise to the highest form, intelligent creatures much like us. Davies is more modest; he points out that while abilities such as vision or flight have evolved independently many times on Earth, intelligent reasoning has arisen only in our own species; the rest cope perfectly well without it. And considering the numerous evolutionary accidents that have made us what we are, Davies reckons the chances of them all being repeated anywhere else in the universe is effectively nil. from Davies latest book

      uwe.klopfer - 2011-11-18 12:15

      The problem with all these assumptions is exactly that : assumptions. Assuming life evolved on earth. Assuming how humans evolved. Assuming everything. While I would think life would be abundant in the universe, intelligent as you mentioned maybe not so much. Assuming the evolution of man theory is correct we as humans have only been "human as we know it" for the last 250 000 years. The velociraptor dinosaur had apparently started showing signs of massive brain capacity growth. No asteroid 65 mil years ago who knows. But that is once again ASSUMING.

      Gaby - 2011-11-19 08:39

      Davies makes a good point. From a Darwinian point of view we have a lot in common with our animal neighbours. However there are missing dots and no other creature comes close. My guess is that we have a bit of alien in us already.

      Herman - 2011-12-21 05:31

      Dr Hugh Ross, an astrophysisist, claim that we are completely alone in the whole universe. What i like of him is that he back up what he claim with research of the scientific community. And i tend to agree with him. If there were ET intelligent life, where are they? If it was as Sagan and others claim, then mathematically, they should long time ago populated the whole universe, but there is nothing.

  • symbolofmylife - 2011-11-18 14:28

    I've never seen an alien and wont go as far as to say I "believe", but the assumption that Earth is the only planet in the universe (that is never ending) that contains life is pretty narrow-minded

  • Stephen - 2011-11-18 15:31

    I was just thinking "a Dyson Sphere" completely encapsulating a star, you wouldn't be able to see it. unless they put some windows in, and what if we just happen to look that way when the curtains are drawn.

  • moneyluck - 2011-11-18 17:23

    Thanks for the comments people. We actually have a space ship near us, if all of us need to leave earth all we need to do is retro fit the moon with hundreds of billions of tons of supply's.We can turn the moon into a space ship just think outside the box for a second, think of the moon spiked with huge rockets all over if we turn on a set to make a turn we can go anywhere with ease.We can even Terra form the inside of it I'm telling you it can be done.We don't need ET's help, I hope mankind never makes contact with E.T, more than likely they have made contact with billions of creature's over a billion yrs.Then that means they have influenced when they shouldn't have. We should avoid them at all costs.If we ever get them to notice us we could all perish or be enslaved like cattle.Remember Stephan Hawking himself thinks it's not a good idea to mess with Aliens.

  • rowen.loretz - 2011-11-18 20:06

    Like i said...look at the micro and not at the macro!

      rowen.loretz - 2011-11-18 20:09

      We believe the answers are out there...somewhere in distant space ( that is what we are told to believe ...the great beyond ...the is the way we think...always looking up to the stars for answers...the answers may be closer than you think. )

  • Emile - 2011-11-19 14:48

    sure sign of intelligent life... none of it has made contact with us

  • Pixie86 - 2011-11-19 21:47

    Why are we always assuming 'beings' from other planets are more intelligent than we are?

  • Paul - 2011-12-21 07:48

    Anything is possible I guess, even Santa lol....

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