How Aliens We’ve Never Met Could Help Humanity Escape Self-Destruction
Humans have had such a dramatic impact on Earth that some scientists say we’ve kickstarted a new geological era known as the Anthropocene.
A fascinating new paper theorizes that alien civilizations could do the same thing, reshaping their homeworlds in predictable and potentially detectable ways.
The authors are proposing a new classification scheme that measures the degree to which planets been modified by intelligent hosts.
Whenever a distant exoplanet is discovered, astronomers categorize it according to its most obvious physical features and orbital characteristics.
Examples include hot-Jupiters, Earth-like terrestrial planets, and brown dwarfs.
With ongoing advances in telescope technology, the day is coming when astronomers will be able to expand on these simple characterizations, classifying a planet according to other features, including atmospheric or chemical composition.
But as a new study led by University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank points out, we may eventually be able to place exoplanets within an astrobiological context, too.
In addition to taking the usual physical measures into account, Frank and his colleagues are proposing that astronomers take the influence of a hypothetical planet’s biosphere into account—including the impacts of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.
Frank’s hypothetical planets, ranked from Class I through to Class V, range from dead, rocky worlds through to planets in which a host intelligence has solved the problems caused by its own existence, like excessive use of resources and climate change.
Moreover, as Frank explained, this paper presents more than just a planetary classification scheme—it’s a potential roadmap to an environmentally viable future.
If we discover signs of an advanced alien civilization—and that’s a big if—we may learn a thing or two about how we might be able to survive into the far future.
Indeed, we’re at a critical juncture in our history, one in which we’re crafting the planet according to our will—and so far, we’re not doing a very good job of it.
There’s ongoing debate as to whether or not our planet has crossed into the Anthropocene epoch, a new geologic chapter in which we’ve become the primary driver of planetary change.
Some scientists point to the fact that half of the planet’s land surface has been claimed for human use, or that Earth’s biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus have been radically altered on account of agriculture and fertilizer use, as evidence that we have.
While the technical debate over what constitutes evidence of a geologic shift continues, it’s clear humanity is altering Earth in some rather profound ways.
So much so, says Frank, that we need to place our planet, and the Anthropocene itself, within an astrobiological context. What’s happening here on Earth, says Frank, is likely happening elsewhere in the Galaxy.
Though we may be inclined to think that our situation is somehow special or unique, we have no good reason to believe that’s really the case.
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