Aalien mining

Apr 25, 2011 By Steve Nerlich, Universe Today
A disk of debris around a star is a likely indicator of planets. A disk of debris with atypical chemistry and density might be a remotely plausible indicator of an alien asteroid mining operation. Credit: NASA.

In what is starting to become a familiar theme, researchers have speculated on what types of observational data from distant planetary systems might indicate the presence of an alien civilization, in this case asteroid mining – but end 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.

Such a finding would indicate the presence of a civilization with more advanced technologies than ours – indeed a Kardashev Type 1 level civilization seems likely. It hence seems unlikely that the only indication of their presence would be a bit of anomalous dust. I mean come on, a radio-quiet Kardashev type 1 civilization?

And 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.

Explore further: POLARBEAR detects curls in the universe's oldest light

More information: Forgan and Elvis. Extrasolar Asteroid Mining as Forensic Evidence for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. arxiv.org/pdf/1103.5369v1

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User comments : 11

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Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (4) Apr 25, 2011
there are aliens on mercury!!!
awesome!
dusanmal
not rated yet Apr 25, 2011
We still can't get rid of anthropomorphic aliens concept. Particularly in behavior. Non-anthropomorphic aliens in mind and body will do things we do not expect and not what we do expect. Propulsion tracks, mining debris ... convenient for taping science fiction movie with human actors. Good science fiction example of completely different and highly advanced sentient being: Solaris. When we start thinking of alien civilization through "almost certainly non-anthropomorphic in any aspect" we'll find them.
Arkaleus
1 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2011
I think it's more reasonable to expect to"see" extraterrestrial civilizations before we "hear" them. They may not communicate or use EM radiation like we do, but all advanced civilizations should use enough energy in their activities to be visible.

I think it's reasonable to expect the denser regions of our galaxy to be active with intelligent activity. Core region stars are much closer together and interact much more frequently, allowing civilizations to navigate between them with much lower energy requirements than us. Since we live out in the rarefied fringe, our distance between interesting points is much greater.

It may even be that our core has been the scene of entire epochs of civilization, expansion and conflict with traces of these activities scattered all through the galaxy. The frequency of interaction between ETs in the core would be proportionally higher than those in the outer rims like ours.
LKD
1 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2011
I think it's reasonable to expect the denser regions of our galaxy to be active with intelligent activity.


I don't agree. If you take a stream, river, what have you. The waterfall part has much less life than the calm stagnant areas which are bounding with life. If anything, I wouldn't predict any life developing under such bombardment. I am sure it's possible, just far more unlikely than in the outer rim where worlds have much fewer interactions and have the stability to develop and evolve.

Oh! before I forget, Aalien has only one 'A' right?
d_robison
not rated yet Apr 26, 2011
I think it's reasonable to expect the denser regions of our galaxy to be active with intelligent activity.


I don't agree. If you take a stream, river, what have you. The waterfall part has much less life than the calm stagnant areas which are bounding with life. If anything, I wouldn't predict any life developing under such bombardment. I am sure it's possible, just far more unlikely than in the outer rim where worlds have much fewer interactions and have the stability to develop and evolve.

Oh! before I forget, Aalien has only one 'A' right?


The analogy you used only works to a certain extent, especially since the "denser regions of our galaxy" would be any part of the galaxy that is in a region that is more dense than our own part. I would agree that life would probably not be as common very close to the center of the galaxy, but once you get away from the center a little bit there would be no reason for there not to be life.
d_robison
not rated yet Apr 26, 2011
Also remember Globular Clusters are densely packed regions of stars that are generally older. Being older gives the advatage of any life surrounding one of those stars potentially more time to evolve.
LKD
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2011
but once you get away from the center a little bit there would be no reason for there not to be life.


Oh certainly, but with asteroids and various debris and additional cosmic rays and solar plasmas I just feel that the outer rim is where the intelligent life will be, not in the more tumultuous parts of our galaxy. Basic simple microbial life, I can easily imagine it is everywhere where there is a reasonable environment.
d_robison
not rated yet Apr 26, 2011
but once you get away from the center a little bit there would be no reason for there not to be life.


Oh certainly, but with asteroids and various debris and additional cosmic rays and solar plasmas I just feel that the outer rim is where the intelligent life will be, not in the more tumultuous parts of our galaxy. Basic simple microbial life, I can easily imagine it is everywhere where there is a reasonable environment.


This is true. Complex life would have a much harder time living in the more extreme conditions of the galactic center.
rubberman
2 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
Folks, attempting to predict the activities of intelligent alien life is like a clam trying to imagine life from a birds perspective....I beleive the universe is literally teaming with life, some of it similar to what we see here. But most of it, especially the intelligent kind, way beyond the realm of human conception. Also, referencing something from Star trek like a Dyson sphere doesn't help create scientific credibility. Cool episode though, nothin' like a drunk Scotty.
LKD
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2011
Folks, attempting to predict the activities of intelligent alien life is like a clam trying to imagine life from a birds perspective....


That is what makes people so unique. We can do just that. There are enough paintings, stories, and songs proving this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Arkaleus
1 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
That's the interesting thing - whatever life develops near the galactic center would interact at a much higher rate with other star systems, and the density of that region allows much shorter distances to travel between stars, and many more stars to travel to.

Mathematically, the chances of civilizations coinciding and interacting in space and time increase as you move into denser star populations. This allows for the possibility of much higher rates of civilization interaction and may indicate a largely homogenous extant galactic culture consisting of parallel evolving civilizations.

The Drake equation does not adequately model the progression of intelligent life as a function of its interaction with other intelligences. I predict this modification to have profound impacts on the development of races in any galactic system, including accelerated growth due to uplift or the result of shared technology and resources.