For just a moment, consider that we aren’t alone in the universe and other life forms exist beyond the Milky Way and Earth, which is the only place advanced life forms have so far been found.
If there are extraterrestrials somewhere in the universe, maybe they saw the dawn of man on this planet and decided they’d watch our progress. How would they have done so?
The Groundbreaking Discovery
An eye-opening new article from LiveScience lays out the following scenario: A hundred million years ago, an advanced civilization detects strange signatures of life on a blue-green planet not so far away from their home in the Milky Way. They try sending signals, but whatever’s marching around on that unknown world isn’t responding. So, the curious galactic explorers try something different. They send a robotic probe to a small, quiet space rock orbiting near the life-rich planet, just to keep an eye on things.
If a story like this played out at any moment in Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history, it just might have left an archaeological record. At least, that’s the hope behind a new proposal to check Earth’s so-called co-orbitals for signs of advanced alien technology
What’s Exactly is a Co-Orbital?
Co-orbitals are space objects — planets, moons, even space rocks — that orbit the sun at approximately the same distance as Earth, James Benford, a physicist and independent SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), explains: “They’re basically going around the sun at the same rate the Earth is, and they’re very nearby.”
It was Benford who suggested his theory of alien surveillance at a conference in Houston last year. If he’s right, the co-orbitals could be a way to detect alien activity that occurred before humans even evolved, much less turned their attention toward the stars.
Not everyone — including fellow SETI researchers — is on board with Benford’s controversial theory. One of them is Paul Davies, a physicist and astrobiologist at Arizona State University, who says he still thinks we should check out all of the co-orbitals just to be sure. How likely it is that alien probe would be on one of these co-orbitals, obviously extremely unlikely.
But if it costs very little to go take a look, why not? Even if we don’t find E.T., we might find something of interest.
Finding the Bugs
Operating from the premise that extraterrestrials are indeed watching us, all we have to do is find the hidden bugs. How would that be done? Dr. Benford has a suggestion. Earth’s closest star other than the sun right now is Alpha Centauri, 4.37 light-years away. But every half million years or so, a star comes within about a light-year of Earth, Benford said, meaning that hundreds of thousands of stars (and their possible attendant planets) have been close enough to our planet during Earth’s long history to make contact.
Long-ago aliens may have observed nothing more exciting than photosynthesizing bacteria, or dinosaurs if they were lucky. But their probes could still be sitting on the co-orbital surface. “‘This is essentially extraterrestrial archaeology I’m talking about,’ Benford said.
Benford suggests we need to use optical and radio telescopes as well as pinging co-orbitals with planetary radar to see if his theory is confirmed. Sending small spacecraft would also be feasible and not too expensive, he adds. China is already planning to send a spacecraft to explore a near-Earth asteroid and an odd rock in the asteroid belt as soon as 2022.
Seeking signs of intelligent extraterrestrials close to Earth is informative even if the search comes up empty, Benford said. That no one heard or seen any extraterrestrial signals in 50 years or so doesn’t mean much, given the mind-boggling period of Earth’s history.
A lack of evidence spanning hundreds, millions or even billions of years would be much more convincing. ‘If we don’t find anything, that means no one has come to look at the life of Earth for over billions of years,’ Benford said. ‘That is a big surprise, a stunning thing.'
When she's not at her desk absorbing all the latest news and producing fresh content for her audience Carmina loves to spend time at coffe shops and dancing at local music festivals.