It has long been an unspoken tenet of astrobiology that in the absence of confirmed alien technologies its necessary to imagine some.
This is far from a frivolous pursuit. Rather, it is an attempt to resolve one of the more baffling aspects of human existence, generally summed up as the Fermi Paradox.
In 1950 the famous nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi came up with an interesting point. Given the size and age of the Milky Way, he said, any alien civilisation just a bit cleverer than humanity should by now have had ample time to explore and colonise all of it.
Why, then, with the obvious exception of a couple of dozen befuddled folk in Americas more agricultural states, has no one ever seen evidence thereof?
Scanning the skies for the sounds of extraterrestrial radio broadcasts the basis of the long-running Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has thus far turned up squat. Other research avenues, at least since Fermis implicit challenge, have focussed on the search for technological evidence.
If ET is out there, the logic runs, she or he or it must have somehow arrived wherever there is, and must be somehow surviving and for those things to happen, some type of whizzbang alien machinery must be involved.
All that has to be done, therefore, is work out a way to detect the tech, which is not easy when the object of any such search is completely unknown.
This has led to some not entirely fanciful imagining. Flying saucers were an early example, although, despite attempts to build them here on Earth, the engineering challenges inherent in the design appear fatal.
Dyson spheres were, and remain, a much stronger candidate. Named after the man who thought of them in 1960, English mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson, these bits of mega-kit comprise enormous energy-absorbing panels placed around entire stars.
An artists illustration of a Dyson sphere.
Marc Ward/Stocktrek Images
Each sphere, the theory goes, could capture, convert and transmit enough energy to power a far-flung galactic empire. Speculation grew over the past couple of years that an actual alien Dyson sphere had been located.
Such a thing, astronomers suggested in 2015, would explain the eccentric light variations observed in a star classified as KIC 8462852, but better known as Tabbys Star.
The most recent research, sadly for enthusiasts, suggests that the irregular and sudden dimming of KIC 8462852 is most likely caused by a rogue exomoon otherwise known as a ploonet getting in the way.
Hope, however, springs eternal for extraterrestrial tech hunters, and the other best-favoured hypothetical example is known as a von Neumann probe, named after a mathematician called John von Neumann, who came up with the idea.
These hypothetical machines overcome one of the principle objections to Fermis Paradox that it assumes ET would actually want to physically colonise the galaxy. Von Neumann probes allow aliens to explore across vast distances while staying at home.
Essentially, they are self-replicating devices that whizz off and then make copies of themselves, thus rapidly indeed, exponentially increasing in numbers and range.
In terms of Fermis notion, however, von Neumann probes simply kick the can further down the road. The idea might explain why humans have never seen an alien, but fails to explain why it has never seen an alien machine.
Objections to the probe idea come in several forms. The machines would need materials to build their doppelgangers, some researchers note, and there may simply be not enough well-placed asteroids or rocky planets to allow this to happen often enough.
Others cite evolutionary theory. As the probes make copies of codes needed for them to operate, mistakes are bound to occur. Some probes might thus turn into predators, hunting and destroying others, or perhaps at a particular point in time, the accumulated errors render most of them dysfunctional.
Recently, however, the idea has been tweaked, because, well, of course it has.
In a paper lodged on the preprint site arxiv, astrophysicist Zaza Osmanov of the Free University of Tbilisi in Georgia suggests that theorists have been thinking about von Neumann probes at entirely the wrong scale.
Using some very detailed calculations, Osmanov concludes that the probe idea works best if the machines are microscopic about one nanometre long.
At that size, he notes, they would not require the substantial resources of rocky planets to reproduce, but could instead power up using hydrogen atoms whirling around in the interstellar dust. He calculates that this is altogether more efficient and much, much faster, with replications happening in a matter of a few years rather than the rather longer timescales thought necessary for macro-scale machines.
Furthermore, nano von Neumanns would very quickly at least on galactic timescales become very numerous. Osmanov estimates that by the time descendants of an initial population of 100 had travelled one parsec about four light years they would number roughly 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1 x 1033).
And that sort of mega-swarm, he suggests, might make them visible, if only someone was looking in the right direction. The nano machines, he says, by encountering and collecting protons, would produce luminous emissions.
Each individual emission would be tiny, but collectively they would add up to something observable, given that the mature von Neumann swarm, assuming they are in a level formation and comprise a wave at their leading edge, would collectively have the typical mass of a comet having a length scale of several kilometres.
At least in the infrared part of the spectrum, Osmanov calculates, that constitutes a target worth looking for.
All the aforementioned results indicate that if one detects a strange object with extremely high values of luminosity increment, that might be a good sign to place the object in the list of extraterrestrial Von-Neumann probe candidates, he concludes.
(It is also possible, of course, referencing Douglas Adams Hitchhiker books, that a huge and tightly packed swarm of nano von Neumanns has already swooped down through the atmosphere to take a closer look at Earth, only to be swallowed by a yawning dog.)
- New Method Helps Observe the Dynamic Motion of Atoms in 2D Materials - AZoNano - February 12th, 2020
- Surgical Instruments Tracking Systems Market Development and New Market Opportunities and Forecasts 2028 - Jewish Life News - February 12th, 2020
- Kanazawa University Research: Combined Drug Treatment for Lung Cancer and Secondary Tumors - Yahoo Finance - February 12th, 2020
- Budding engineers told to think innovatively - The Hindu - February 12th, 2020
- Adoption Scenario of Protein Engineering Market to Remain Positive Through 2015 2021 - Lake Shore Gazette - February 12th, 2020
- alwaysAI now open to meet growing demand from computer vision developers - PR Web - February 12th, 2020
- A Thermometer can be Stretched and Crumpled by Water - Printed Electronics World - February 12th, 2020
- Consumer Demand for Eco-friendly Products Set to Boost the Prospects of the Digital Servo Press Market 2019 2027 - Redhill Local Councillors - February 12th, 2020
- International Day of Women and Girls in Science celebrated - The News International - February 12th, 2020
- New nano-device eats the plaque that clogs arteries: On market this year - The New Daily - January 30th, 2020
- Beating the Heat in the Living Wings of Butterflies - Newswise - January 30th, 2020
- Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and Rice University sign memorandum - India Education Diary - January 30th, 2020
- Team turns banana peels and other trash into 'flash graphene' - Futurity: Research News - January 30th, 2020
- Tata Nano could have been a success, if only... - BusinessLine - January 30th, 2020
- Nanodiamond Market Growth Analysis By Manufacturers, Regions, Type And Application, Forecast Analysis - Industry Mirror - December 27th, 2019
- Eun Ji Chung Named as IEEE New Innovator and BMES Rising Star - USC Viterbi School of Engineering - November 25th, 2019
- UMP named as Best University in Research and Innovation for Non-Research University - QS WOW News - November 25th, 2019
- Eight Illinois researchers rank among world's most influential - University of Illinois News - November 25th, 2019
- Lenovo ThinkBook and ThinkCentre Malaysia: Everything you need to know - Yahoo Singapore News - November 25th, 2019
- By far the best trader in the world, period. - eFinancialCareers - November 25th, 2019
- We're on the verge of making buildings as strong as diamonds - Fast Company - November 25th, 2019
- Surgical Instruments Tracking Systems Market Expected to Witness a Sustainable Growth over 2028 - News Description - November 25th, 2019
- Ceramic Nanotubes Engineered As Thermal Antennas With Heat Radiation Control - Market Research Feed - November 25th, 2019
- FEATURE: These bold engineering ideas could take humanity to the stars - Professional Engineering - November 13th, 2019
- Nanoform Wins Award for Drug Development and Delivery - AZoNano - November 13th, 2019
- Renowned researcher, UTRGV professor blazes trail from Monterrey to White House to TedXMcAllen - Monitor - November 13th, 2019
- Rice receives Army grant amid concerns - The Rice Thresher - November 13th, 2019
- NTT Research and Technical University of Munich (TUM) Enter Joint Research Agreement to Collaborate on Technologies to Affect the Future of Patient... - November 13th, 2019
- Micromotors move single cells using magnets and ultrasound - CMU The Tartan Online - November 13th, 2019
- Nanosatellite And Microsatellite Market with Report In Depth Industry Analysis on Trends, Growth, Opportunities and Forecast till 2026 - Tech Admirers - November 13th, 2019
- SMART discovers nondisruptive way to see surface of nanoparticles - Mirage News - November 13th, 2019
- Simera Sense And Space Inventor To Collaborate On Offering Earth Observation Solutions - Space in Africa - November 13th, 2019
- Global Nano Gas Sensors Market 2019 Raytheon Company, Ball Aerospace and Technologies, Thales Group, Lockheed Martin Corporation - Daily Industry... - November 13th, 2019
- Global Nano Gas Sensors Market Insights 2019 Raytheon Company, Ball Aerospace and Technologies, Thales Group - Daily Industry News Journal - November 13th, 2019
- Nano-Motors Find Tilt-Illating Solution to Move Against the Current - SciTechDaily - November 3rd, 2019
- Doheny and UCLA Stein Eye Institutes Welcome Kaustabh Ghosh, PhD, to the Scientific and Clinical Research Faculty - P&T Community - November 3rd, 2019
- Japanese 'Supercar' Made From Recycled Wood Has A Top Speed Of 20 Kmph - Mashable India - November 3rd, 2019
- Preparation And Antibacterial Effects Of Carboxymethyl Chitosan-Modifi | IJN - Dove Medical Press - November 3rd, 2019
- Nano Gps Chip Market to Witness Increased Revenue Growth Owing to Rapid Increase in Demand - Health News Office - November 3rd, 2019
- Codexis Protein Engineering Forum Highlights Progress and Future Direction of the Field - Yahoo Finance - October 16th, 2019
- Nano One looks to be a winner as they work to make a better lithium-ion battery - InvestorIntel - October 16th, 2019
- This Huge Amazonian Fish That Lives in Piranha-Infested Waters Has Some of the Toughest Scales on the Planet - Newsweek - October 16th, 2019
- Aerostructure Equipment Market To Soar Across Top Countries In The Globe - Online News Guru - October 16th, 2019
- Letter to the editor: Our trees are dying - Taft Midway Driller - October 16th, 2019
- What's future of industrial hemp in NC? Thought leaders gather to explore possibilities - WRAL Tech Wire - October 16th, 2019
- Army Bio-Inspired Theoretical Research May Make Robots More Effective on the Future Battlefield - I-Connect007 - October 16th, 2019
- MIT.nano awards inaugural NCSOFT seed grants for gaming technologies - The MIT Tech - October 1st, 2019
- Impressive Growth of Biomedical Nanotechnology Market 2019-2025 Upcoming Developments, Business Predictions & Future Investment Including Advanced... - October 1st, 2019
- Make like a leaf: researchers developing new method to convert CO2 - News - The University of Sydney - October 1st, 2019
- Budding opportunity? Hemp conference to offer insights to an emerging industry - WFMYNews2.com - October 1st, 2019
- Sigma Lithium Announces a Positive Feasibility Study with Forecast LOM Net Revenue of US$1.4 Billion and EBITDA of US$ 690 Million for the High-Grade,... - October 1st, 2019
- Revolut to hire around 3,500 staff to support its global expansion - News by aeresearch - October 1st, 2019
- Nano Crystalline Soft Magnetic Market Projections Deliver Positive Revenue Growth during the Period between 2018 and 2028 - The Herald Media - October 1st, 2019
- NanoEngineering | NanoEngineering - June 3rd, 2019
- What does a nanotechnology engineer do? CareerExplorer - June 1st, 2019
- Undergraduate Degree Programs | NanoEngineering - June 1st, 2019
- Ripple Price Forecast: XRP vs SWIFT, SEC Updates, and More - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Looking Past the Bithumb Crypto Hack - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: This Week on Bitfinex, Tether, Coinbase, & More - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: XRP Validators, Malta, and Practical Tokens - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Bitcoin ETFs, Andreessen Horowitz, and Contradictions in Crypto - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: New Exchanges Could Boost Crypto Liquidity - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Bitcoin ETF Rejection, AMD Microchip Sales, and Hedge Funds - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: What You Need to Know This Week - May 25th, 2019
- Bitcoin Rise: Is the Recent Bitcoin Price Surge a Sign of Things to Come or Another Misdirection? - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Vitalik Buterin Doesn’t Care About Bitcoin ETFs - May 25th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: This Week on Bitfinex, Tether, Coinbase, & More - April 29th, 2019
- Ripple Price Forecast: XRP vs SWIFT, SEC Updates, and More - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Bitcoin ETFs, Andreessen Horowitz, and Contradictions in Crypto - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Looking Past the Bithumb Crypto Hack - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: What You Need to Know This Week - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: XRP Validators, Malta, and Practical Tokens - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: New Exchanges Could Boost Crypto Liquidity - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Bitcoin ETF Rejection, AMD Microchip Sales, and Hedge Funds - April 29th, 2019
- Bitcoin Rise: Is the Recent Bitcoin Price Surge a Sign of Things to Come or Another Misdirection? - April 29th, 2019
- Cryptocurrency News: Vitalik Buterin Doesn’t Care About Bitcoin ETFs - April 29th, 2019
- The Mueller Report Confirms We’re Living in a Cyberpunk Dystopia - April 21st, 2019
- When the Large Hadron Collider Turns on, It May Trap Dark Matter - April 21st, 2019
- John McAfee Vows to Reveal Bitcoin’s Creator - April 21st, 2019
- Astronomers Finally Found the Universe’s First Type of Molecule - April 21st, 2019