News / Science & Technology

    Pollution Could Be Key to Finding Extraterrestrial Life

    Artist rendering of the exoplanet HD 189733b.
    Artist rendering of the exoplanet HD 189733b.

    Related Articles

    Video Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life 'Within Reach' Says NASA

    New telescopes could make finding life more probable

    Looking for pollution in exoplanet atmospheres may be a promising way to detect intelligent life, according to new research.
     
    Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) say they might soon be able to "spot the fingerprints of certain pollutants under ideal conditions."
     
    "We consider industrial pollution as a sign of intelligent life, but perhaps civilizations more advanced than us, with their own SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) programs, will consider pollution as a sign of unintelligent life since it's not smart to contaminate your own air," said Harvard student and lead author Henry Lin in a statement.
     
    Specifically, researchers think the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), slated for launch in 2018, will offer astronomers a chance to detect two kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) on a faraway world. One caveat is that the levels of CFC in the planet's atmosphere would have to be 10 times higher than here on Earth.
     
    Some CFCs last for 50,000 years, while others break down after just 10 years. Distinguishing between the types on an alien world might say a lot about the planet's history.
     
    "If you don't see the short-lived ones, you may be looking at the ruins of a civilization that killed itself," said Harvard co-author Avi Loeb.
     
    Then again, high levels of pollution could be a sign of an advance civilization, said Loeb.
     
    On a planet just outside the so-called habitable zone, an advanced civilization might purposely flood the atmosphere of a planet with greenhouse gases to warm it up and make it habitable.
     
    According to Loeb, the JWST was not designed with this kind of research in mind, but he thinks that if they find a promising planet, there could be a push to develop technology that would better analyze that planet's atmosphere. One such technology might be able to block the light of the star so that only the light passing through the planet's atmosphere could be seen and studied.
     
    For now, the JWST "can only detect pollutants on an Earth-like planet circling a white dwarf star." White dwarf stars are what remains after a star like the sun dies.
     
    White dwarf stars have only recently become interesting to those in search of extraterrestrial life because it was widely thought that during a star's death, when it swells to what is called a red giant, any planet that might have had life would have been incinerated.
     
    "Turns out in 2011 people discovered two Earth-like planets after the red giant," said Loeb, adding that the planets either survived the red giant phase or formed afterwards.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: harry from: australia
    August 04, 2014 4:32 PM
    We look for radio signals.Now we are looking for industrial pollutants.Are we looking for an exact copy of ourselves.Aliens if they exist would be so different that identifying them will be an ardous task.One thing for certain is if they are advanced we wouldnt detect pollutants because pollutants contaminate planets and risk both lives and planets.Global warming on Earth will endanger our prospects of getting to that advanced civilization stage.

    by: Donald Fraser Miles from: Elliot Lake, Canada
    July 26, 2014 11:31 AM
    One way of identifying extraterrestial life would be to design a telemetric system that can identify electrical circuits in space. Intelligent life would have electrical grids designed on their planet for the same reasons we do, if they are a developed civilization. An electrometric sensing device aimable into space might produce results of identifiable artificially built electricity grids on foreign planets.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.