No signs of super-advanced alien life after 100,000 galaxies searched

A team of scientists searched for super-advanced alien life in 100,000 galaxies and found no evidence. They used observations from NASA’s WISE orbiting observatory. This does not necessarily mean there is nothing intelligent out there.

Scientists estimate there are at least one billion galaxies in the observable universe. Therefore, the 100,000 galaxies studied represent just 0.01% of them. The search was for super-advanced civilizations that had colonized a whole galaxy – meaning they would be thousands of years technologically ahead of us.

Assistant Professor Jason T. Wright, who works at the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University, and conceived of and initiated the study, said:

“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 would be detectable in mid-infrared wavelengths – exactly the radiation that the WISE satellite was designed to detect for other astronomical purposes.”

Andromeda

A false-color image of the mid-infrared emission from the Great Galaxy in Andromeda, as seen by Nasa’s WISE space telescope. The orange color represents emission from the heat of stars forming in the galaxy’s spiral arms. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team)

Mysterious things discovered in our own galaxy

The scientific team’s first paper about its Glimpsing Heat from Alien Technologies Survey (G-HAT) appears on the April 15th issue of the Astrophysical Journal. During the study, the researchers discovered some mysterious new phenomena in our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Prof. Wright said:

“Whether an advanced spacefaring civilization uses the large amounts of energy from its galaxy’s stars to power computers, space flight, communication, or something we can’t yet imagine, fundamental thermodynamics tells us that this energy must be radiated away as heat in the mid-infrared wavelengths.”

“This same basic physics causes your computer to radiate heat while it is turned on.”

British theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson suggested in the 1960s that an advanced extraterrestrial civilization could be detected by the hallmark evidence of their mid-infrared emissions.

It was only when the WISE satellite was launched that it became possible to make sensitive measurements of this radiation emitted by objects in space.

Lead author, post-baccalaureate researcher at Penn State, Roger Griffith, searched almost the entire catalog of the WISE satellite’s detections – almost 100 million entries – for objects consistent with galaxies emitting more-than-expected mid-infrared radiation.

He then individually examined and categorized about 100,000 of the most promising galaxy images.

Fifty galaxies with high mid-infrared radiation

Prof. Wright said:

“We found about 50 galaxies that have unusually high levels of mid-infrared radiation. Our follow-up studies of those galaxies may reveal if the origin of their radiation results from natural astronomical processes, or if it could indicate the presence of a highly advanced civilization.”

In any case, the researchers believe their non-detection of any obvious alien-filled galaxies is an interesting and new scientific result.

Prof. Wright explained:

“Our results mean that, out of the 100,000 galaxies that WISE could see in sufficient detail, none of them is widely populated by an alien civilization using most of the starlight in its galaxy for its own purposes.”

“That’s interesting because these galaxies are billions of years old, which should have been plenty of time for them to have been filled with alien civilizations, if they exist. Either they don’t exist, or they don’t yet use enough energy for us to recognize them.”

Brendan Mullan, director of the Buhl Planetarium at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, who was also a member of the G-HAT team, said:

“This research is a significant expansion of earlier work in this area. The only previous study of civilizations in other galaxies looked at only 100 or so galaxies, and wasn’t looking for the heat they emit. This is new ground.”

Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Cal Poly Pomona, Matthew Povich, a co-researccher on the project, said:

“Once we had identified the best candidates for alien-filled galaxies, we had to determine whether they were new discoveries that needed follow-up study, or well-known objects that had a lot of mid-infrared emission for some natural reason.”

Cal Poly Pomona undergraduate Jessica Maldonado searched through the astronomical literature for the best of the objects that had been detected as part of the study to determine which were well known and which were new to science. “Ms. Maldonado discovered that about a half dozen of the objects are both unstudied and really interesting looking,” Prof. Povich said.

Some puzzling new objects found

Co-researcher, Steinn Sigurdsson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, said:

“When you’re looking for extreme phenomena with the newest, most sensitive technology, you expect to discover the unexpected, even if it’s not what you were looking for. Sure enough, Roger and Jessica did find some puzzling new objects.”

“They are almost certainly natural astronomical phenomena, but we need to study them more carefully before we can say for sure exactly what’s going on.”

In our own Milky Way the researchers discovered a bright nebula around the nearby star 48 Librae, as well as a cluster of objects easily detected by WISE in a part of the sky that appears completely black when viewed with telescopes that detect only visible light.

Prof. Povich said:

“This cluster is probably a group of very young stars forming inside a previously undiscovered molecular cloud, and the 48 Librae nebula apparently is due to a huge cloud of dust around the star, but both deserve much more careful study.”

Prof. Wright added:

“As we look more carefully at the light from these galaxies, we should be able to push our sensitivity to alien technology down to much lower levels, and to better distinguish heat resulting from natural astronomical sources from heat produced by advanced technologies. This pilot study is just the beginning.”

The study was supported by a New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology grant, and also funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Article Source: Search for advanced civilizations beyond Earth finds nothing obvious in 100,000 galaxies,” Penn State. Eurekalert (AAAS). 14 April, 2014.