Popular Science

In the hunt for aliens, satellites may light the way

If aliens love satellites as much as we do, we might be able to spot them
An alien planet ringed with satellites transits in front of its sun.

A band of satellites orbits a planet crossing in front of a star. This could be Earth in a few centuries. Or an alien civilization today.

Courtesy of Hector Socas-Navarro

The Earth is expanding, satellite by satellite, every rocket launch carrying a piece of the planet’s crust into orbit. Should this incidental geoengineering venture continue, it will reshape our planet’s profile as seen across even interstellar distances—giving our smooth sphere a noticeable bulge.

If we’re puffing up our planet, other civilizations could be doing the same to theirs, producing a ring of satellites that we might be able to spot with telescopes we have today. That’s according to , an astrophysicist at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Spain, who gave a talk on in Houston last week. Scientists have long speculated that might betray the presence of technological aliens, but while a mega-solar panel blocking a distant star is theoretically easy to spot, such notions remain squarely in the realm of science fiction. Thought experiments like Socas-Navarro’s, however, show that now, equipped with better telescopes than their predecessors, researchers are taking searches for planet-level changes more seriously.

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