Are alien spaceships blasting their way through distant galaxies using massive radio bursts? As reported by Science Alert, some scientists based at Harvard University seem to think it might be possible. But if they’re right, just how does this work and what would it mean?
Fast Radio Bursts
One of the most unusual phenomena physicists have ever encountered while studying the deep reaches of outer space are known as fast radio bursts. These bursts appear to be occurring in distant galaxies billions of light years away from our own Milky Way galaxy. They were only discovered 10 years ago, and a clear explanation for them has yet to be provided by scientists – despite their best efforts.
— The SETI Institute (@SETIInstitute) March 10, 2017
During these intermittent and unpredictable radio bursts, energies millions of times greater than those produced by our own sun are generated for an infinitesimal time. As unlikely as it might seem that any civilization could develop that would be capable of creating and managing such massive energy levels, researcher Avi Loeb feels that – in the absence of any other explanation – the artificiality of these bursts should be considered.
“Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence. An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.”
Using the scale produced in the 1960s by Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev to measure civilizations based on their energy consumption, it’s clear that any civilization capable of controlling the above energy levels would almost certainly be Type II.
A Type II civilization can harness all of the energy produced by their home star. It can even manage that star to a degree. By comparison, we on Earth are not even a Type 1 civilization yet. Type I civilizations can harness all of the solar energy reaching a planet’s surface. We have a long way to go before we can do even that.
The Purpose Of Fast Radio Bursts
If these bursts are being generated artificially by a civilization far more advanced and powerful than our own, what exactly is their purpose? Obviously, these levels of energy emission aren’t necessary for any form of communication.
— Scientific American (@sciam) March 11, 2017
But recent experiments carried out by NASA, as well as by the Planetary Society, and others, have confirmed the possibility of using sails for traveling within the solar system, and potentially even further. Currently, plans are in place to create incredibly small interstellar probes that could be launched to nearby star systems using lasers fired from Earth to provide propulsion.
Expanding on this concept, the researchers at Harvard feel that fast radio bursts could represent massive engineering projects carried out by unknown civilizations and designed to provide propulsion for much more massive alien spaceships. According to the calculations of the physicists carrying out this study, vessels massively larger than any oceangoing cruise ship on earth could easily be accelerated to near lightspeed-levels using such huge amounts of energy.
In order to provide the energy needed for fast radio bursts – that could then be used for propulsion – it would be necessary for such a civilization to construct astronomically large energy collectors near their home star. This energy would then be redirected via transmitters toward the “sails” of the alien spaceships in question.
This would mean that these civilizations were limited to the same lightspeed limitation we ourselves face when contemplating interstellar travel. But it’s also true that pushing a ship up to near lightspeed would – thanks to relativistic time dilation effects – mean that the crews on board the alien spaceships would experience a very short travel time to their nearest interstellar neighbor.
[Featured Image by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]