Immensely powerful flashes of light thought to originate billions of light years from earth may be evidence of extraterrestrial life, according to two Harvard scientists.
Avi Loeb, a theorist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Harvard researcher Manasvi Lingam theorize that the fast radio bursts (FRBs) could be generated by advanced alien civilizations, as a way to accelerate interstellar spacecraft to tremendous speeds.
FRBs were first discovered in 2007 and there have been about 20 more observed since then. There is no satisfactory theory for how the FRBs could occur naturally.
A gigantic radio transmitter could be sending powerful beams of energy that would be caught by an alien spacecraft’s light sail, propelling it forward. The concept has been proven in space by NASA, but only on a very tiny scale.
The duo calculated that a solar-powered transmitter could indeed beam FRB-like signals across the cosmos — but it would require a sunlight-collecting area twice the size of Earth to generate the necessary power.
And the huge amounts of energy involved wouldn’t necessarily melt the structure, as long as it was water-cooled. So, Lingam and Loeb determined, such a gigantic transmitter is technologically feasible (though beyond humanity’s current capabilities).
Why would aliens build such a structure? The most plausible explanation, according to the study team, is to blast interstellar spacecraft to incredible speeds. These craft would be equipped with light sails, which harness the momentum imparted by photons, much as regular ships’ sails harness the wind. (Humanity has demonstrated light sails in space, and the technology is the backbone of Breakthrough Starshot, a project that aims to send tiny robotic probes to nearby star systems.)
Indeed, a transmitter capable of generating FRB-like signals could drive an interstellar spacecraft weighing 1 million tons or so, Lingam and Loeb calculated.
“That’s big enough to carry living passengers across interstellar or even intergalactic distances,” Lingam said in the same statement.
Humanity would catch only fleeting glimpses of the “leakage” from these powerful beams (which would be trained on the spacecraft’s sail at all times), because the light source would be moving constantly with respect to Earth, the researchers pointed out.
Many ET scientists believe it is far more likely that we will detect the highly advanced technology of an alien civilization before we hear any “message” those aliens would send. This would seem to fill the bill. In order for us to detect the FRB, it must be almost unimaginably powerful since it is so distant. Unless it is a truly exotic, naturally occurring phenomenon not detected anywhere else in the universe, a logical hypothesis is that an FRB is something artificially generated.
The scientists acknowledge that their thesis is a shot in the dark:
Lingam and Loeb acknowledge the speculative nature of the study. They aren’t claiming that FRBs are indeed caused byaliens; rather, they’re saying that this hypothesis is worthy of consideration.
“Science isn’t a matter of belief; it’s a matter of evidence,” Loeb 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.”
The new study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. You can read it for free on the online preprint site arXiv.org.
So are these guys really on to something or are they desperate for attention? It would seem that in this case, with no satisfactory explanation that scientists have been able to come up with that FRBs are a naturally occurring phenomenon, a hypothesis that an intelligent species traveling the stars is using the technology certainly deserves serious study.
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