This Star Trek planet could reveal hyper-intelligent alien life


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After reading the science fiction book Collector space by Stephen Baxter, Belgian astronomer Michaël Gillon wanted to explore the possibility of interstellar communication in real life.

The book follows the protagonist to the edge of the solar system where he discovers a quantum gateway for interstellar travel. And it gave Gillon, who led the team that discovered the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, a real-world idea straight out of science fiction.

“I had this idea of ​​assuming an ancient civilization which would have explored the entire galaxy using self-replicating probes,” says Gillon. Reverse. “And they would use this gravitational lens technique to communicate from one system to another.”

Gillon thought of a galactic-scale communication network that uses stars to boost its communication. In a study published on the Arxiv preprint server, Gillon and his colleagues suggest a star as the ideal candidate for intercepting this interstellar line of communication. And it is the one who Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will instantly recognize it.

HERE IS THE CONTEXT – The study assumes that not only do aliens exist, but that they are much more advanced than human civilization. This hypothetical ancient alien civilization uses self-replicating probes known as the von Neumann probe.

The idea was proposed by Hungarian-American mathematician and computer scientist John von Neumann in 1966, who suggested that the most efficient way of space exploration would be to design self-replicating robots.

These robots would search for raw materials from asteroids or moons, and even entire planets, to create copies of themselves. Aftershocks would travel across the cosmos, passing from one star system to another.

Once they’ve explored the entire Milky Way galaxy, Gillon also suggests that super-advanced aliens would use stars to improve their communication network through the gravitational lens.

The gravitational lens was first predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity. This happens when a large object like a star or galaxy passes in front of an object in the background, distorting and amplifying light from a distant source in the same line of sight.

Theoretically, a civilization could use the same effect to amplify transmissions. By aligning the communications beam with a star, they would use the gravitational lens to create a focused beam of outgoing information towards another star.

Wolf 359 seen from Earth and the New Horizons spacecraft, showing the difference in view between the perspectives. NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

WHAT’S NEW – Taking this scenario a step further, the scientists behind the new study also assume that our own Sun is part of the communication network.

Artem Burdanov, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT and co-author of the study, explains how this could happen without our knowledge.

“Under this assumption, our Sun should also have such probes,” Burdanov said. Reverse. “And those local probes would have to communicate with the star systems closest to us, so it could be Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star, or Wolf 359.”

Scientists have decided to focus on nearby star Wolf 359 as a prime candidate for detecting interstellar communication. The star is about 7.9 light years away and has two candidate planets, although neither is considered habitable. It is also the site of a clash between the Federation and the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

“I noticed that one of the closest stars, actually the third closest star, Wolf 359 is a bit special because it is in the mid-orbital plane of the Earth,” Gillon explains.

Considering the position of the Earth from the star Wolf 359, the planet is expected to cross the communication beam traveling towards the star every year, “which means that we have the opportunity every year to listen to the communication of the probe, ”explains Gillon. This beam would be detectable in infrared wavelengths.

The team then set off in search of these signals, using the TRAPPIST and SPECULOOS telescopes to attempt to detect this interstellar communication beam. However, their first research attempt was left empty.

“But that still doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” says Gillon. “Maybe the probe is using a different wavelength.”

AND AFTER – Gillon is not giving up yet.

The team will continue their research using different telescopes. Although they have not yet returned, they are observing small ultraviolet telescopes known as nanosatellites.

But when it comes to how long it would take for human civilization to achieve the same technological advancement that this galactic alien civilization exploring, there is still a little bit of time left.

“Theoretically, nothing is now preventing us from making such a probe and having it in our solar system,” Burdanov explains. “But we have to be much further ahead to really explore our galaxy with such probes.”

Abstract: Under the hypothesis that the self-reproducing probes formed a galactic-scale communication network through direct gravitational lens (GL) links between neighboring systems, we identify Wolf 359, the third closest star system, as an excellent target for a search for interstellar aliens. communication emitted by our solar system. This is because Earth is a transit planet seen from Wolf 359, which means our planet could pass through an alien communication beam once per orbit. We present a first attempt to detect optical messages emitted by the solar system towards this star, based on the observations collected by the robotic telescopes TRAPPIST-Sud and SPECULOOS-Sud. Although sensitive enough to detect constant emission with a transmit power as small as 1 W, this research yielded a zero result. We note that the GL-based interstellar communication method does not necessarily require transmitting from the so-called “solar gravitational line” (SGL), from ~ 550 au from the Sun, and that the probe (s) could be located closer to the Sun and off-center compared to the SGL, at the cost of a smaller but still significant gain compared to a communication strategy not boosted by the GL. Based on this consideration, we searched our data for a moving object whose motion would be consistent with that of the hypothetical alien emitter, assuming it uses a solar sail to maintain its distance from the Sun. We could not reliably identify such an object up to a magnitude of about 23.5, which corresponds to an explored area extending to the orbit of Uranus (20 au).

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