Alien Starships Headed Our Way? Fast Radio Bursts Could Power Light Sails

A new study has taken the position that fast radio bursts, those mysteriously brief, quick, and powerful energy bursts scientists have detected and for which astronomers have yet to locate an origination point, might be power sources for alien starships or probes. In short, fast radio bursts could very well be artificial and evidence of alien technology.

The study suggests, according to, that an alien civilization — or civilizations, considering that all fast radio bursts do not have the same point of origin — has harnessed the energy of a star and has acquired the ability to direct said energy, using it to power a some sort of spacecraft across the void. What has been detected — the fast radio bursts — on Earth is described as the “leakage” from the directed energy beam spilling out around the craft, perhaps one that is being pushed or pulled along by a light sail constructed to capture the immense amount of energy.

“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,” said theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.”

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) have been known to astronomers for only a decade, the first being detected in 2007. As Scientific American explains, they are enigmatic in that scientists have no idea where or from what they originate, thus providing a challenge for researchers. The bursts are believed to come from other galaxies but this remains unconfirmed. They last for less than 50 milliseconds, and so far, there have been only 18 ever detected.

Loeb, working with his co-author Manasvi Lingam of Harvard University, took the idea of the ability to construct a radio transmitter with the capability of being detected over such extraordinary distances and found that a solar-powered transmitter could acquire enough energy to operate if a star’s light falling on an area the size of two Earths could be harnessed. Of course, the type of technology required for such a project is far beyond the capability of humans at present, but the ability to do so is well within the established laws of physics.

Loeb and Lingam then took the extra step of determining if such a transmitter could withstand its own energy build-up and survive a meltdown. They found that from an engineering perspective, a cooling device using water, also the size of two Earths, would likely keep such a transmitter stable enough to operate.

So why would an alien civilization go to all the trouble of harnessing a star’s energy for transmission? The study’s authors believe that the most plausible use of such a powerful device would be to provide power for interstellar travel. Their argument rests in the use of light sails, receptive devices that use the directed energy to move through space. Loeb and Lingam estimate that the amount of power being transmitted would be enough to move a payload of a million tons, or as describes it, “20 times the largest cruise ships on Earth.”

“That’s big enough to carry living passengers across interstellar or even intergalactic distances,” Lingam noted.

alien starship energy powered

Such a statement conjures up the idea of alien exploration starships or even colony vessels traveling through space, the stuff of science fiction books and films. But to actually work, the transmitters would have to keep a continuous beam of energy on the light sails to provide the necessary power to move through space. The reason observers on Earth have been able to see the fast radio bursts, Loeb and Lingam suggest, is due to the light sail and its home planet, star, and galaxy are all moving relative to our planet, resulting in the beam sweeping across the sky and pointing in our direction for only a brief moment.

The authors, whose study has been accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters, admit that their work is speculative. When asked if fast radio bursts might actually be the product of some construct of an alien civilization, Loeb answered that science would be the ultimate determinant.

“Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence,” he said. “Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”

Artist's concept of alien technology

The ideas of an alien transmitter powering a light sail-rigged starship or probe across the vast distances of space would fit into the Kardashev Scale, a measuring method used to determine the level of technological advancement of a civilization, as a Type I civilization. The Kardashev Scale allows for up to a Type IV civilization (able to harness the energy resources of the entire universe). For comparison, Earth is currently a Type 0 civilization, having harnessed not even all the resources of our own planet.

To date, NASA and other space agencies take the official position that there is a preponderance of theoretical evidence that alien life exists and will eventually be encountered, but alien life itself has yet to be detected.

[Featured Image by Esteban De Armas/Shutterstock]