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Updated: Thursday, 10 Nov 2011, 11:18 AM EST
Researchers Avi Loeb from The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Edwin Turner of Princeton University have suggested just that. They proposed looking for aliens’ city lights could be a clue as to whether there’s life out there.
“Looking for alien cities would be a long shot, but wouldn’t require extra resources,” Loeb said in a statement . “And if we succeed, it would change our perception of our place in the universe.”
The theory does depend on assuming that aliens would have Earth-like technologies and that they would want to see in the dark, requiring them to have artificial illumination when it’s dark outside.
If it worked, science blog io9 stated, telescopes would pick up tiny fluctuations in light emitted from alien solar systems. There would be more light from the dark side than what’s seen from its day side.
The astrophysicists’ paper, submitted to Astrobiology , states that existing optical telescopes and surveys could detect artificially-illuminated objects equaling the brightness of a major terrestrial city in the outskirts of our solar system.
The center’s announcement suggested, for instance, that our best telescopes should be able to see light generated by a Tokyo-sized metropolis in the area occupied by Pluto, Eris and smaller icy bodies. If nothing else, it would be good practice for when astronomers have stronger telescopes in the future and can extend the search to other solar systems.
Space.com , in cooperation with Astrobiology Magazine, explained how Loeb and Turner came up with their theory. Loeb got the idea while at a conference in Abu Dhabi and hearing a tour guide to Dubai suggest the emirate was so bright at night that it could be seen by space.
“It’s not like I think there’s a baseball stadium on Pluto, but we need to drop all preconceptions about what alien civilizations do and search in every way we can,” he said.