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Monday 12 December 2011

Searching for alien artifacts

For many people, the very idea of needing to search for alien artifacts is ludicrous. After all, alien spacecraft can be seen in the skies of Earth every day of the week, and virtually every archaeological specimen older that three thousand years was fabricated, if not by extraterrestrials, then by dim-witted humans under the guidance of extraterrestrials. So for people who think along those lines, there's nothing to search for: the Earth is already overflowing with alien artifacts. But scientists (who are part of the Conspiracy) aren't allowed to admit that -- they have to look further afield. I've just been reading three fascinating articles on the subject at

The first paper is called On the likelihood of non-terrestrial artifacts in the Solar System. It's based on the idea that the most probable type of artifact would be an unmanned space probe between 1 and 10 metres in size. The authors use my favourite mathematical formula, Bayes' Theorem, to estimate the probability that such a probe exists in the Solar System but has not yet been detected (I'm annoyed by this, because I could easily have done the calculation myself, but I wasn't clever enough to think of doing it). They conclude that the probability that there are no NTAs ("non-terrestrial artifacts") waiting to be found on the surface of the Earth is 75%, that there are none on the surface of the Moon is 65%, and that there are none on the surface of Mars is 50%. But when it comes to the remainder of the Solar System, it's a different matter altogether: the authors say they "have almost no confidence that NTAs are absent".

There is a natural tendency to assume that any advanced alien civilization would send out interstellar space probes, just as we would ourselves if we had the money. But what if the aliens simply stay at home and mind their own business? We might still be able to detect their "artifacts", as shown in the second paper: Detection Technique for Artificially-Illuminated Objects in the Outer Solar System and Beyond. In this case, the artifacts in question are city lights. The night-side of the Earth (the side facing away from the Sun) is covered in bright little pinpoints of light -- and these add up to quite a lot of light coming from a place that, according to the laws of nature, should be pitch black. Any planet with a reasonably advanced civilization is likely to be the same, giving it a characteristic signature in terms of both the intensity and the spectrum of the light emitted.

The first two papers assume the aliens are at the same technological level as ourselves, or slightly ahead of it. But what if they were millions of years ahead? A really advanced civilization might be capable of harvesting the entire energy of a star, or of manipulating the structure of space-time. This possibility is addressed in the third paper: Black Holes: Attractors for Intelligence?

An accretion disk around a black hole is the most efficient source of energy in the universe. Such disks are known to exist in low-mass X-Ray binary (LMXB) systems, as shown in the NASA artist's impression on the left. It's conceivable that such systems could be created artificially by a sufficiently advanced intelligence -- but even naturally occurring ones might attract advanced civilizations to their vicinity, in order to tap into the readily available energy and possibly for other uses as well (such as time travel or ecologically friendly waste disposal). Even without understanding the details of the alien technology, the paper suggests that we might be able to detect it through anomalies in the energy flow from LMXBs.


Anonymous said...

Andrew, with regards to alien artifacts I have always wondered if humankind would recognize an alien artifact for what it really was even if it was right in front of us. How would you tell an influence from suitably advanced alien technology from a facet of the natural laws of nature that we just don't fully understand yet? Perhaps the signs of alien influence are all around us and just not seen for what they are yet....


Andrew May said...

That's a good point. I suppose the scientific answer is that if a particular object can be explained as having a natural origin (e.g. asteroids or whatever) then that's a more likely explanation than to assume they're artificial. It's only if you can't explain something as having a natural origin that it's reasonable to think it might be an artifact.

An interesting point from the article about Black Holes -- although you can explain LMXBs as having a natural origin, there seem to be too many of them in the Galaxy to fit the natural explanation. So some of them might have had "help" from super-intelligent aliens!

Anonymous said...

Andrew, also don't forget (if you below ancient astronaut theorists) that anything thing that ancient man built or created that modern man cannot easily replicate (using modern technology) is a sure sign of alien intervention in prehistory!

I saw this phenomenon in action recently. I watched an archeological program on the "Great Escape". The archeologists using modern mining techniques and modern digging machines really struggled to build a tunnel under the site of the former prison camp. A group of modern day RAF officers equipped from the same tools used in 40's had much better luck. Evidence that aliens helped design those tools?


Bmb said...

There are real artifacts to are discover but not recognized found, what does science call them anomalies in sequence or strata. However, that is not on which I want to comment a. In the 70's my dad got some caliche from a local source near Abilene Texas which I spread over the old dirt car path. one of the stones caught my eye. It had a hole in its side, so I picked it up and took it home. I started worrying the little bit of iron I successfully removed. It had four sides of a cube and inside the partical cube was what looked liked a small electronics chip. I have pictures some where. The caliche is 65 million years old. Who made it I do not know, what it was used for I do not know.