Search for signs of energy use by alien civilizations turns up empty

A record 100,000 galaxies searched for heat emissions from energy use.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Apr 16, 2015
Astronomers searching for evidence of existing alien civilizations studied data from NASA's WISE orbiting observatory in an effort to detect the heat that would be produced by such civilizations' energy use.

Funded by a New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a team of scientists from the Carnegie Science Center, Penn State University, and California State Polytechnical Institute reviewed WISE data from 100,000 galaxies searching for signs of heat emissions but found none.

The project was spearheaded by astrophysicist Brendan Mullen of the Carnegie Science Center and director of its Buhl Planetarium.

Jason Wright, Steinn Sigurdsson and Roger Griffith of Penn State andJessica Maldonado and Matthew Povich of Cal Poly in Pomona took part in the project.

The study was based on the premise that activities of advanced alien civilizations would emit heat across their home galaxies, which WISE would be capable of detecting, Wright explained.

Wright is an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

"The idea behind our research is that, if an entire galaxy had been colonized by an advanced spacefaring civilization, the energy produced by that civilization's technologies tapping most of the available starlight would be detectable in mid-infrared wavelengths exactly the radiation that the WISE satellite was designed to detect for other astronomical purposes," he said

This study is the first to search for evidence of heat emissions as a means of detecting the presence and/or activity of alien civilizations.

It is also by far the most extensive search. Past efforts looked at approximately 100 galaxies.

Mullen added,"It's checking off a box and looking at a certain parameter space of what aliens could be like and saying there are no aliens that meet this specific parameter of tapping this energy and going across the stars."

The project was praised by Seth Shostack, heads of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research in Mountain View, California, who described it as "ambitious and worthwhile."

The study, titled "Glimpsing Heat from Alien Technologies Survey," is being published in the April 16, 2015 Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.



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