While we’ve advanced significantly for the short time humanity has existed on Earth, our planet is still invisible, at least to potential advanced alien civilizations out there on distant planets that are also looking for life in the universe. Aside from a trace of artificial CFC gases in our atmosphere, if an intelligent civilization were to look in Earth’s direction, they’d likely see very little evidence that humans exist or ever existed. According to a new study published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, however, this could change with the build-out of SpaceX’s ever-increasing “mega-constellation” of Starlink satellites.
The science and other stuff to know
The study, written by Zaza Osmanov, a professor in astrophysics at the Free University of Tbilisi, Georgia, notes that Starlink’s massive size could give Earth its first “techno-signature” that’s actually visible from deep space. A “techno-signature” is evidence of the use of technology or industrial activity in other parts of the universe. Detecting them with large telescopes is one way we could confirm the presence of advanced alien civilizations — or vice versa.
As noted by Osmanov, instruments like the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and China’s FAST radio telescope already have enough technology to locate mega-structures like Starlink in deep space. The professor notes that since Earth’s advanced interferometers can detect this activity from other planets, any other civilization with comparable or advanced technology would likely be able to do the same, and potentially find Earth in the process.
Osmanov reckons that in 1,000 years, Starlink could make Earth visible to instruments like the VLT on planets up to 260 light-years away. He also suggests that since Starlink satellites broadcast radio signals, the FAST telescope would be able to detect the mega-constellation as far out as 520 light-years.
Deployment of Starlink satellites in space invokes ideas such as the Kardashev Scale, which is a way of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement based on how much usable energy it has at its disposal.
Kardashev defines type I as a “technological level close to the level presently attained on the Earth,” type II as “a civilization capable of harnessing the energy radiated by its own star” and type III as “a civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its own galaxy.”
Referencing the Kardashev Scale, Osmanov notes that humans, at least for now, could be considered a Type-0.7 civilization. And with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite project, we’re on a path to becoming a Type-I civilization.
Has Earth been visited by aliens? This is a mystery and a controversial topic that has puzzled many. Scientists and astronomers express varying degrees of enthusiasm for the possibility of extraterrestrials in the universe. Mega-structures like Starlink satellites could help Earth become a Type I civilization, and as a result, scientists would have a much better chance of recognizing alien civilizations. It’s not just Starlink — projects like OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are also contributing to Earth establishing its own “techno-signature.”