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Technosignature or technomarker is any measurable property or effect that provides scientific evidence of past or present technology.[1][2] Technosignatures are analogous to the biosignatures that signal the presence of life, whether or not intelligent.[1][3] Some authors prefer to exclude radio transmissions from the definition,[4] but such restrictive usage is not widespread. Jill Tarter has proposed that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) be renamed "the search for technosignatures".[1] Various types of technosignatures, such as radiation leakage from megascale astroengineering installations such as Dyson spheres, the light from an extraterrestrial ecumenopolis, or Shkadov thrusters with the power to alter the orbits of stars around the Galactic Center, may be detectable with hypertelescopes. Some examples of technosignatures are described in Paul Davies's 2010 book The Eerie Silence, although the terms "technosignature" and "technomarker" do not appear in the book.

Astroengineering projects[edit]

A Dyson sphere, constructed by life forms dwelling in proximity to a Sun-like star, would cause an increase in the amount of infrared radiation in the star system's emitted spectrum. Hence, Freeman Dyson selected the title "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation" for his 1960 paper on the subject.[5] SETI has adopted these assumptions in its search, looking for such "infrared heavy" spectra from solar analogs. From 2005, Fermilab has conducted an ongoing survey for such spectra, analyzing data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.[6][7]

Identifying one of the many infra-red sources as a Dyson sphere would require improved techniques for discriminating between a Dyson sphere and natural sources.[8] Fermilab discovered 17 "ambiguous" candidates, of which four have been named "amusing but still questionable".[9] Other searches also resulted in several candidates, which remain unconfirmed.[6] In October 2012, astronomer Geoff Marcy, one of the pioneers of the search for extrasolar planets, was given a research grant to search data from the Kepler telescope, with the aim of detecting possible signs of Dyson spheres.[10]

Shkadov thrusters, with the hypothetical ability to change the orbital paths of stars in order to avoid various dangers to life such as cold molecular clouds or cometary impacts, would also be detectable in a similar fashion to the transiting extrasolar planets searched by Kepler. Unlike planets, though, the thrusters would appear to abruptly stop over the surface of a star rather than crossing it completely, revealing their technological origin.[11] In addition, evidence of targeted extrasolar asteroid mining may also reveal extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).[12]

Planetary analysis[edit]

Artificial heat and light[edit]

Various astronomers, including Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Edwin L. Turner of Princeton University have proposed that artificial light from extraterrestrial planets, such as that originating from cities, industries, and transport networks, could be detected and signal the presence of an advanced civilization. Such approaches, though, make the assumption that the radiant energy generated by civilization would be relatively clustered and can therefore be detected easily.[13][14]

Light and heat detected from planets must be distinguished from natural sources to conclusively prove the existence of intelligent life on a planet.[4] For example, NASA's 2012 Black Marble experiment showed that significant stable light and heat sources on Earth, such as chronic wildfires in arid Western Australia, originate from uninhabited areas and are naturally occurring.[15]

Atmospheric analysis[edit]

Atmospheric analysis of planetary atmospheres, as is already done on various Solar System bodies and in a rudimentary fashion on several hot Jupiter extrasolar planets, may reveal the presence of chemicals produced by technological civilizations.[16] For example, atmospheric emissions from industry on Earth, including nitrogen dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons, are detectable from space.[17] Artificial pollution may therefore be detectable on extrasolar planets. However, there remains a possibility of mis-detection; for example, the atmosphere of Titan has detectable signatures of complex chemicals that are similar to what on Earth are industrial pollutants, though obviously not the byproduct of civilisation.[18] Some SETI scientists have proposed searching for artificial atmospheres created by planetary engineering to produce habitable environments for colonisation by an ETI.[16]

Extraterrestrial artifacts and spacecraft[edit]


Interstellar spacecraft may be detectable from hundreds to thousands of light-years away through various forms of radiation, such as the photons emitted by an antimatter rocket or cyclotron radiation from the interaction of a magnetic sail with the interstellar medium. Such a signal would be easily distinguishable from a natural signal and could hence firmly establish the existence of extraterrestrial life were it to be detected.[19] In addition, smaller Bracewell probes within the Solar System itself may also be detectable by means of optical or radio searches.[20][21]


A less advanced technology, and one closer to humanity's current technological level, is the Clarke Exobelt proposed by Astrophysicist Hector Socas-Navarro of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias.[22] This hypothetical belt would be formed by all the artificial satellites occupying geostationary/geosynchronous orbits around an exoplanet. Simulations suggest that a very dense satellite belt (requiring only a moderately more-advanced civilization than ours) would be detectable with existing technology in the light curves from transiting exoplanets.[23]

Scientific projects searching for technosignatures[edit]

One of the first attempts to search for Dyson Spheres was made by Vyacheslav Slysh from the Russian Space Research Institute in Moscow in 1985 using data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).[24]

Another search for technosignatures, circa 2001, involved an analysis of data from the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory for traces of anti-matter, which, besides one "intriguing spectrum probably not related to SETI", came up empty.[25]

In 2005, Fermilab had an ongoing survey for such spectra by analyzing data from IRAS.[26][27] Identifying one of the many infra-red sources as a Dyson Sphere would require improved techniques for discriminating between a Dyson Sphere and natural sources.[28] Fermilab discovered 17 potential "ambiguous" candidates of which four have been named "amusing but still questionable".[9] Other searches also resulted in several candidates, which are, however, unconfirmed.[29]

In a 2005 paper, Luc Arnold proposed a means of detecting planetary-sized artifacts from their distinctive transit light curve signature. He showed that such technosignature was within the reach of space missions aimed at detecting exoplanets by the transit method, as were Corot or Kepler projects at that time.[30] The principle of the detection remains applicable for the future exoplanets missions.[31][32][33]

In 2012, a trio of astronomers led by Jason Wright started a two-year search for Dyson Spheres, aided by grants from the Templeton Foundation.[34]

In 2013, Geoff Marcy received funding to use data from the Kepler Telescope to search for Dyson Spheres and interstellar communication using lasers,[35] and Lucianne Walkowicz received funding to detect artificial signatures in stellar photometry.[1]

Starting in 2016, astronomer Jean-Luc Margot of UCLA has been searching for technosignatures with large radio telescopes.[2]

In 2016, it was proposed that vanishing stars are a plausible technosignature.[36] A pilot project searching for vanishing stars was carried out, finding one candidate object. In 2019, the Vanishing & Appearing Sources during a Century of Observations (VASCO) project began more general searches for vanishing and appearing stars, and other astrophysical transients [37] They identified 100 red transients of "most likely natural origin", while analyzing 15% of the image data. In 2020, the VASCO collaboration started up a citizen science project, vetting through images of many thousands of candidate objects.[38] The citizen science project is carried out in close collaboration with schools and amateur associations mainly in African countries.[39] The VASCO project has been referred to as "Perhaps the most general artefact search to date".[40]

In June 2020, NASA was awarded their first SETI-specific grant in three decades. The grant funds the first NASA-funded search for technosignatures from advanced extraterrestrial civilizations other than radio waves, including the creation and population of an online technosignature library.[41][42][43]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "'Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence' Needs a New Name, SETI Pioneer Says".
  2. ^ a b "Researchers Just Scanned 14 Worlds From the Kepler Mission for "Technosignatures", Evidence of Advanced Civilizations". Universe Today. 9 February 2018. Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  3. ^ Frank, Adam (31 December 2020). "A new frontier is opening in the search for extraterrestrial life - The reason we haven't found life elsewhere in the universe is simple: We haven't really looked until now". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b Almár, Iván (2011). "SETI and astrobiology: The Rio Scale and the London Scale". Acta Astronautica. 69 (9–10): 899–904. Bibcode:2011AcAau..69..899A. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.05.036.(subscription required)
  5. ^ Freemann J. Dyson (1960). "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation". Science. 131 (3414): 1667–1668. Bibcode:1960Sci...131.1667D. doi:10.1126/science.131.3414.1667. PMID 17780673. S2CID 3195432.
  6. ^ a b Carrigan, Dick (2006). "Fermilab Dyson Sphere search program". Archived from the original on 2006-03-06. Retrieved 2006-03-02.
  7. ^ Shostak, Seth (Spring 2009). "When Will We Find the Extraterrestrials?" (PDF). Engineering & Science. 72 (1): 12–21. ISSN 0013-7812. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-15.
  8. ^ Carrigan, Richard; Dyson, Freeman J. (15 May 2009). "Dyson sphere at Scholarpedia". Scholarpedia. 4 (5): 6647. doi:10.4249/scholarpedia.6647. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  9. ^ a b Carrigan, D. (2012). "Fermilab Dyson Sphere search program". Archived from the original on 2006-03-06. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
  10. ^ Sanders, Robert (5 October 2012). "Grants help scientists explore boundary between science & science fiction". Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  11. ^ Villard, Ray (2013). "Alien 'Star Engine' Detectable in Exoplanet Data?". Retrieved 2013-07-08.
  12. ^ Duncan Forgan; Martin Elvis (2011). "Extrasolar Asteroid Mining as Forensic Evidence for Extraterrestrial Intelligence". International Journal of Astrobiology. 10 (4): 307–313. arXiv:1103.5369. Bibcode:2011IJAsB..10..307F. doi:10.1017/S1473550411000127. S2CID 119111392.
  13. ^ "SETI search urged to look for city lights". 2011-11-03. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  14. ^ Extrasolar Planets: Formation, Detection and Dynamics Rudolf Dvorak, page 14 John Wiley & Sons, 2007
  15. ^ "Wildfires Light Up Western Australia". 2012-12-07. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  16. ^ a b "Alien Hairspray May Help Us Find E.T." 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  17. ^ "Satellite sniffs out chemical traces of atmospheric pollution / Observing the Earth / Our Activities / ESA". 2000-12-18. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  18. ^ "Haze on Saturn's Moon Titan Is Similar to Earth's Pollution". 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  19. ^ Zubrin, Robert (1995). "Detection of Extraterrestrial Civilizations via the Spectral Signature of Advanced Interstellar Spacecraft". In Shostak, Seth (ed.). Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series. Progress in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. Astronomical Society of the Pacific. pp. 487–496. Bibcode:1995ASPC...74..487Z.
  20. ^ Freitas, Robert (November 1983). "The Case for Interstellar Probes". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 36: 490–495. Bibcode:1983JBIS...36..490F.
  21. ^ Tough, Allen (1998). "Small Smart Interstellar Probes" (PDF). Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 51: 167–174.
  22. ^ Dorminey, Bruce. "NASA's TESS Telescope May Spot Alien Geo-Satellites, Say Astronomers". Forbes. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  23. ^ Hector Socas-Navarro (2018-02-21). "Possible Photometric Signatures of Moderately Advanced Civilizations: The Clarke Exobelt". The Astrophysical Journal. 855 (2): 110. arXiv:1802.07723. Bibcode:2018ApJ...855..110S. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aaae66. S2CID 55234856.
  24. ^ Battersby, Stephen. "Alien megaprojects: The hunt has begun". New Scientist. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  25. ^ Harris, Michael J. (2002). "Limits from CGRO/EGRET Data on the Use of Antimatter as a Power Source by Extraterrestrial Civilizations". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 55: 383. arXiv:astro-ph/0112490. Bibcode:2002JBIS...55..383H.
  26. ^ Carrigan, D. (2006). "Fermilab Dyson Sphere search program". Archived from the original on 2006-03-06. Retrieved 2006-03-02.
  27. ^ Shostak, Seth (Spring 2009). "When Will We Find the Extraterrestrials?" (PDF). Engineering & Science. 72 (1): 12–21. ISSN 0013-7812. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-15.
  28. ^ Dyson sphere at Scholarpedia
  29. ^ Dick Carrigan (2010-12-16). "Dyson Sphere Searches". Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  30. ^ Luc F. A. Arnold, 2005, Transit Light-Curve Signatures of Artificial Objects
  31. ^ Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite TESS. NASA.
  32. ^ CHEOPS CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite
  33. ^ PLATO PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars. ESA.
  34. ^ "Hunting for Alien Megastructures". Universe Today. 24 May 2013. Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  35. ^ Brannen, Peter (24 July 2013). "Hunt for alien spacecraft begins, as planet-spotting scientist Geoff Marcy gets funding". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  36. ^ Villarroel B., Imaz I., Bergstedt J., 2016, Our sky now and then: searches for lost stars and impossible effects as probes of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations,
  37. ^ Villarroel B., Soodla J., Comeron S. et al., 2020, The Vanishing & Appearing Sources during a Century of Observations project: I. USNO objects missing in modern sky surveys and follow-up observations of a "missing star",
  38. ^
  39. ^ Villarroel B., Pelckmans K., Solano E. et al., Launching the VASCO citizen science project,
  40. ^ Shostak S., SETI: the argument for artefact searches,
  41. ^ "NASA funds SETI study to scan exoplanets for alien "technosignatures"". New Atlas. 23 June 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  42. ^ Rice, Doyle. "Scientists are searching the universe for signs of alien civilizations: 'Now we know where to look'". USA TODAY. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  43. ^ "Does intelligent life exist on other planets? Technosignatures may hold new clues". Retrieved 5 July 2020.