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Space Science

Hairspray Could Help Us Find Advanced Alien Civilizations 211

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the at-least-the-fashionable-ones dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Charles Q. Choi reports that hairspray could one day serve as the sign that aliens have reshaped distant worlds because one group of gases that might be key to terraforming planets are CFCs. 'Our hypothesis is that evidence of intelligent life might be evident in a planetary atmosphere,' says astrobiologist Mark Claire at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. CFCs are entirely artificial, with no known natural process capable of creating them in atmospheres. Detecting signs of these gases on far-off worlds with telescopes might serve as potent evidence that intelligent alien civilizations were the cause, either intentionally as part of terraforming or accidentally via industrial pollution. 'An industrialized civilization will be one that will use its planetary resources for fabrication, the soon-to-be-detectable-from-Earth atmospheric byproducts of which could be a tell-tale sign of their activity,' says astrobiologist Sanjoy Som. CFCs can be easily recognized in planetary atmospheres because their atmospheric 'fingerprint' (i.e. chemical spectra) is very different from natural elements, and are a tell-tale sign that life on the surface has advanced industrial capabilities. Using state-of-the-art computer models of atmospheric chemistry and climate, researchers plan to discover what visible signs CFCs and other artificial byproducts of alien terraforming or industry might have on exoplanet atmospheres. 'We are about a decade away of being able to measure detailed compositions of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets,' says Som."
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Hairspray Could Help Us Find Advanced Alien Civilizations

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  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:15AM (#42104497)

    and the way life manifests itself might be totally different from what we see here on Earth.

    Harumph. Physics and chemistry work virtually the same way everywhere. What makes you think that they will discover something significantly different from CFCs as an inert propellant?

  • by art6217 (757847) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:30AM (#42104621)
    gigawatts of radio waves put into space: check
    at a wavelength interesting to astronomers: check
    low--frequency modulation, common phase: check (think Fourier analysis over months of data to filter out unmodulated light of a nearby star)
    characteristic spectral fingerprint of artificial light: check
    not limited to a civilisation's "radio window": check
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:33AM (#42105765) Journal

    Oh man, talk to a chemist, they are inert, which makes things biologically complicated and the precursors are beyond nasty.

    Perhaps I'm not up to speed on chemistry, but that's only true for the industrial processes that we use. The only ways we can fix nitrogen are currently pretty biologially unfriendly at the moment.

    Biological tissue has severe issues dealing with fluorine ions, which is too bad.

    True, but some organisms have evolved to deal with it. For instance monofluoroacetate can be produced biologically.

    The point is that life on other planets may be quite different from our own. It will probably be based on carbon, since nothing else is nearly so flexible, but I don't see any reason why the chemistry should be anything close.

    Plenty of vessels and orifices would benefit by a native layer of teflon.

    Quite possibly, though the ability to synthesize some fluorine containing chemicals doesn't indicate the ability to synthesize them all. Also, don't forget that the parts have to be repairable and also have to have wound up there by evoloutionary chance as well.

    Very many things end up down a sub-optimal branch from which they cannot escape.

  • Ask Me Anything (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mark Claire (2782779) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:58AM (#42106013)
    Hi all. I'm one of the scientists involved in this project. We are trying out this new kickstarter-for-science approach as it's both hard to get NASA funds for SETI, and it's also surprisingly hard to get small "seed money" type grants to do cutting edge work. We've started our own non-profit scientific research organization (http://bmsis.org) and are trying to do science outside the confines of the traditional academic structure. We'd love your support if you can (http://www.petridish.org/projects/do-aliens-use-hairspray) but more than that, we'd love to hear any ideas/answer questions about the project.
  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:45PM (#42107587)

    Evolution would suggest that its biochemistry would probably be very much like that of earth life, since evolution favors the "path of least resistance" - biochemistries unsuited for survival will tend to die off, biochemistries efficient at survival will tend to flourish.

    Consider the wavelengths of light absorbed by Earth's photosynthesizing plants. Now consider the wavelengths NOT absorbed by plants. These rejected wavelengths (green, mostly) are actually the most abundant, so it is counterintuitive that plants would evolve to effectively discard a useful energy source. It is very odd when you consider that pretty much every bit of free energy is capitalized by some form of life, yet the most abundant wavelengths are rejected.

    The going theory is that originally archaea DID make use of the green wavelength and didn't waste energy trying to capture the less valuable reds and blues. Cyanobacteria's ancestors (and the predecessor to our modern green plants) is theorized to have taken advantage of this 'discarded' spectrum where competition was lessened.

    Big deal, you may think. However, when you realize that our planet is pretty 'green' rather 'purple' you have to come to terms with the fact that the dominant plant life on Earth actually evolved along the more difficult path, scrounging 'scrap' energy. We aren't completely sure WHY cyanobacteria beat out archaea, because if you were to look at it from an unbiased perspective when life first emerged on the Earth, a betting man would have bet on archaea. It had monopolized the most valuable wavelengths in terms of available energy, was fairly dominant, and by all typical measures, was more 'fit' to its environment. Theories abound that perhaps being forced to use the 'dregs' of light forced early cyanobacteria to be more efficient in its energy usage, evolving processes which wasted less, allowed simpler reproduction, etc, and then a global stressor caused the purple life to falter, the green life took up the slack and never gave back its dominant position.

    There are lots of theories to why, but the important fact here is that for some reason, the less likely lifeform became dominant.

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