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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

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.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid