Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgement: William Blair (Johns Hopkins University)


Here on Earth, researchers are on the lookout for microbial or, at best, unintelligent life.

But finding leftover technological artifacts by prior technological, perhaps spacefaring, species could be easier to locate.

Be prepared to detect unambiguous “technosignatures” is the advice of Jason Wright at the Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

Archeology of space

“While all geological records of prior indigenous technological species might be long destroyed, if the species were spacefaring there may be technological artifacts to be found throughout the Solar system,” Wright explains in a recent research paper, now in the production phase after being accepted for publication in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

Outward bound Voyager records with photos, messages, sounds.
Credit: NASA

Indeed, technosignatures could be in the form of artifacts beneath the surface of Mars, the rocky moons and asteroids, or in orbit in the outer Solar System where they could be discoverable.

“Such discoveries might occur using the tools of the burgeoning field of the archeology of space, which includes searching for, finding, and interpreting human artifacts in space,” Wright adds. “Such work includes the rediscovery and identification of lost probes and other space-borne human artifacts either for forensic purposes, or even accidentally.”

Buried structures

Wright suggests that more likely is revealing traces of buried structures or other artifacts via imagery and subsurface radar used to study the geology of planetary surfaces.

“Photometry and spectra of asteroids, comets, and Kuiper Belt Objects might reveal albedo, shape, rotational, compositional, or other anomalies because the targets host, or are, artifacts,” Wright explains.

Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani.
Credits: NASA/Greg Shirah

The origins and possible locations for technosignatures of a prior indigenous technological species, Wright says, might be found on ancient Earth or another body, such as a pre-greenhouse Venus or a wet Mars of long ago.

Unambiguous technosignatures

“Remaining indigenous technosignatures might be expected to be extremely old, limiting the places they might still be found…beneath the surfaces of Mars and the Moon, or in the outer Solar System,” Wright suggests.

“The question is not how long the past we might be able to detect the fossil remains of the species — we don’t know how to measure intelligence reliably from fossils of bones — but to detect unambiguous technosignatures,” he writes.

Wright’s research was partially supported by Breakthrough Listen, part of the Breakthrough Initiatives sponsored by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

For the full research paper, go to Prior Indigenous Technological Species at:

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