Could light and noise from Earth attract attention from outer space?

Could light and noise from Earth attract attention from outer space?
Credit: KPG_Payless/Shutterstock

Since the first use of electric lamps in the 19th century, society hasn't looked back. Homes and streets are lit at all hours so that people can go about their business when they'd once have been asleep. Besides the obvious benefits to societies and the economy, there's growing awareness of the negative impact of artificial light.

Light pollution has been blamed for wasting energy, disrupting wildlife behavior and harming mental health. One aspect has avoided the spotlight though. Namely, that light not only allows one to see, but also to be seen. This could well attract unwelcome attention—and not just from moths.

The innate curiosity of humans and our growing knowledge of the universe in which we live have led us inexorably to a question. Do civilizations exist on planets other than Earth? Scientists now believe that there are many places in the universe which might harbor simple lifeforms such as bacteria.

What is more speculative is the notion that such extraterrestrial life could have become technologically advanced, perhaps even well beyond our capacity. This idea has captured the imagination of the general public, giving birth to a rich collection of science fiction literature and blockbuster films. But it has also received serious attention from scientists, who have thought of ways to find and possibly contact these .

Could light and noise from Earth attract attention from outer space?
The radio telescope dish of Arecibo national observatory in Puerto Rico. Credit: Photo Spirit/Shutterstock

In 1974, radio astronomer Frank Drake used the then most powerful radio transmitter, at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, to broadcast a message into space announcing our presence. The message will now be 45 light years away from us. While there are many stars and planets closer to us than that, they won't have been in the path of Drake's broadcast.

But impatient as scientists tend to be, more effort has gone into searching space for such signals transmitted by extraterrestrial civilizations. As more and more planets are discovered around other stars, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—often abbreviated to SETI—is becoming more relevant, better informed and better resourced. In 2015, wealthy entrepreneurs Yuri and Julia Milner allocated US$100m to the Breakthrough Listen SETI project, which buys time at observatories to use their powerful telescopes to detect artificial signals from outer space.

But despite the vastness and emptiness of space, scientists have started to wonder why we haven't heard from aliens yet. This puzzle is known as the Fermi Paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi. Among the many solutions proposed for this problem, one really brings us down to Earth: aliens might be scared of other aliens.

Could light and noise from Earth attract attention from outer space?
Europe’s lights seen at night from space. Credit: NicoElNino/Shutterstock

Is anyone listening?

While tempting, many scientists now agree that sending messages into space without knowing who might be intercepting them might not be such a good idea. Once sent, it cannot be undone. Unlike a post on social media, it cannot be removed. Listening is much safer. But among ourselves—which includes navigation, television broadcasts and the internet—might also be detected from space.

After all, that aren't captured continue to travel, up and away from the Earth into deep . Unintentionally, we may already have been observed by an amused, terrified or "interested" species, who may decide to meet us to "shake hands," or come to enslave us, eat us, or destroy us as a precaution. We are, after all, an aggressive species ourselves.

Fortunately, Earth has become a lot quieter, thanks to more directed signaling and fiber cables replacing aerial transmission. We might just get away with our past recklessness. But a new beacon is brightening.

Images of the Earth at night reveal our presence in spectacular fashion. Cities and roads outline the contours of continents, while oil platforms dot the seas and ships draw lines across the ocean. This type of light, which has replaced older, incandescent sources, is unnatural. From the orange sodium or bluish mercury lamps, to white-light emitting diodes (LEDs), the artificial origin of this "spectrum" should be easy for technologically advanced aliens to spot.

In the coming decades Earth's space agencies may be developing the means to detect such artificial from planets around other stars. But we may fail, if aliens believe the smartest thing to do is to keep quiet and remain in the dark. We, on the other hand, may already have been seen, and they may already be on their way. This begs the question—should we dim our lights, before it's too late?


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Jul 31, 2019
"Could light and noise from Earth attract attention from outer space?"

Sure, if there was someone out there to notice it.
But, there is Not.

Jul 31, 2019
"Could light and noise from Earth attract attention from outer space?"

Sure, if there was someone out there to notice it.
But, there is Not.
Plenty of machine singularities out there, the inevitable remnants of industrial civilizations such as ours, with absolutely nothing to say to us whatsoever. And nothing to learn from us either.

Jul 31, 2019
i am of the opinion that all the unnatural lights from the Earth's surface are not even visible frim our Moon's surface.

perhaps there are very sophisticated spy satellites launched into Earth/Lima orbit by Earth-govs-acronym agencies
that may have such photos?

i have not seen pr heard of anu available online
would you trust the validity of any youtubed pictures?
i'd suspect the complete image was a collection of superimposed simulations

i really doubt that the feeble lighting of modern technology
would not be washed out by the Sun floodlighting Earth/Luna

didn't we already cover last month?
the very poor prospects of coherent information being broadcast past all the noisy racket continuously broadcasting from our Sun & Jupiter

Aug 01, 2019
I wouldn't be so concerned, because:
1) In terms of remote Astronomy science to see planets light years away is already a major scientific advance to be able to image them because of the overwhelming light torrent coming from their stars, much less to see their surface in enough detail to detect ground illumination.
2) Perhaps the way we produce light is typical of a "primitive" civilization which would not interest any advanced society, which would be the only kind who might have the ability to come here anyway.

Since barionic (I mean: visible) matter represents only a small fraction of the content of the universe, perhaps most advanced civilizations live in the other part of whatever makes up the universe, which is dark matter? and therefore we would be part of a minority within this spectrum which is used by only those guys with the same power as we do and therefore unable to come here any time soon anyway.

Aug 02, 2019
In terms of remote Astronomy science to see planets light years away is already a major scientific advance to be able to image them because of the overwhelming light torrent coming from their stars, much less to see their surface in enough detail to detect ground illumination
Imagine the resolution of telescope networks spanning star systems composed of dishes miles across. We can already detect the compositions of exoplanet atmospheres.

Aug 02, 2019
i am of the opinion that all the unnatural lights from the Earth's surface are not even visible frim our Moon's surface.


Why do you have such a stupid opinion?

Aug 02, 2019
why Ojorf?
because i have seen no evidence that naked-eyeball-perceivable artificial lights from the Earth's surface are visible from from our Moon's surface

if you have such evidence to prove me wrong?
please feel free to post the links to confirmed, verified, peer-reviewed, unaltered, untainted by woomongering fakery of photo-shopped images

no, comicbooks, sf/x cartoons & cgi created cinematic images do not count

i suppose we could argue whether or not laser-beans should count as "visible" for photography?

"wanting & wishing
hoping & praying"
???
don't count squat

& unlike most of the cranks commenting on this site
, i ain't afraid to be proven wrong about my opinions

so gimme your best shot
& if it turns out to be a whiffle ball?
i will take great pleasure in satirizing your opinion

Aug 02, 2019
because i have seen no evidence that naked-eyeball-perceivable artificial lights from the Earth's surface are visible from from our Moon's surface
That's because as usual you didn't bother to look you fucking pissant.

"I see the lights come on in moscow" -Edgar Mitchell from lunar orbit.
https://www.quora...the-moon

Aug 02, 2019
okay otto
thank you for the quote from off-the-cuff interview of astronaut Edgar Mitchell by William Mook

the quora site looks interesting
i'm going to have to tale a good look around as soon as i have the opportunity

i wish it had been a public interview or recording for confirmation
but Mook has an excellent reputation
therefore i am willing to accept his memory of their drive

i would point out the minor quibble that the direct naked-eyeball viewing was while the orbiter was enroute returning to Earth

this however, is still not any evidence that Earth surface artificial lighting could possibly be detected from other star systems
or even, in my opinion, the Lunar surface

& thanks otto for the info & link

in my opinion, i can no longer claim that you are a totally useless pisspot

Aug 03, 2019
Solar orbit virtual telescope array
"The nearest known, reasonable, candidates for being an Earth-like planet (as of April 2013) are about 20 light years away (HD 20794 d, Gliese 581 c, and Gliese 667C c). Spotting dudes and ladies on one of these worlds requires, at minimum, a telescope array that's at least 100 million km across. That's an array more than half the size of Earth's orbit. The good news is that an array like that (under absolutely ideal circumstances) isn't that difficult to create. Setting aside that the telescopes would each need to be essentially perfect for their size (Hubble-quality)[OR HUGE], all we'd need to do is set them up in solar orbits about the size of Earth's orbit. This is a lot easier than sending them to another planet, and about as hard as sending them to crash on the Moon."

-The article is about imaging moving reflecting objects (aliens). For stationary emitting objects (lights) the system would be simpler using time lapse.

Aug 03, 2019
A few 100 networked Webb-sized scopes in solar orbit might be able to see emitters 6ly away.

Or a few dozen of these

"Astronomers are also looking further ahead, to the Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Telescope (Atlast), proposed for launch around the year 2030. Still in the earliest stages of planning, the observatory could have a diameter of between 300 and 600 inches. Even the smallest of these proposed designs would result in a telescope 2,000 times more sensitive than Hubble, and capable of five to 10 times greater resolution than the Webb observatory."

Aug 03, 2019
And it's not unreasonable to assume that civilizations only a few centuries beyond ours, machine or not, would routinely build such arrays. What do you think we will be building in 500 years with our AI- and robot-based interplanetary industrial complex? 1000yrs? 10,000yrs?

1000s of dishes miles across, circling the sun out past the orbit of Pluto where it's cold and clean and quiet, searching the universe in concert, looking for potential friends or enemies.

Aug 03, 2019
these deep space telescope projects otto describes
are potentially feasible & maybe mostly self-funding

an infrastructure of self-assembling automated factories in orbit
utilizing captured meteorites & asteroids to produce the structural materials for the super-scopes

the advantage to this usage?
basically i had written off the nickel-iron rocks as worthless.

once you remove the valuable phosphates?
i'd figured the dross of N_I would just wind up getting parked & forgotten at the Venus LaGrange halos

while the recovered phosphates are most valuable remaining in orbit for use in habitats

even if Human attempts to survive & thrive outside the Earth's Biosphere are a failure?

phosphates are among the most valuable of Space resources to sell down to Earth
which would help purchase new tech & pay to launch to the orbiting factories

Aug 06, 2019
Don't underestimate that much of the emitted light is modulated at 120 or 100Hz (from 60 and 50Hz networks). it is much easier to detect modulation.

Aug 06, 2019
Somebody might detect us and decide this planet would be better than where they are and come here. The best plan for them would be to send some faster ships ahead to steer comets and asteroids toward us to sanitize Earth and then introduce some of their own species and start a new ecosystem. So when they get here several centuries later they will find a world more "friendly" to them.

It is a possibility and would not take any technology more advanced than ours except maybe to freeze bodies without damage so they can be revived after the voyage. This surprises people. We are of course have no real defense if a number of asteroids or comets came at us. The beings replacing us could comfort themselves by seeing us as too stupid to survive. I think we should not be so stupid...anyone interested should read my views on this at my blog Ice on the Moon and comment.

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