The large number of Starlink satellites that are being launched into orbit represents a great techno-signature that could serve as a beacon to attract other civilizations from the cosmos.
Imagine that you are a member of an intelligent species on a planet orbiting a star close to that one with what appear to be eight or nine exoplanets revolving around it, including one ringed and one very blue. Imagine looking at the “pale blue dot” using one of your most powerful telescopes and seeing something, perhaps a structure, that appears to have been made by intelligent beings. You ask a friend to look at it and tell you what they think it is. He looks, then looks at you and says paraphrasing:
“I’m not saying it’s Elon Musk . but it’s Elon Musk.”
The Starlink Satellite Network May Attract Aliens
That’s the gist of a new paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society proposing that the Starlink satellite network, launched by Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX, is building a ‘technology firm’ that may be seen by aliens, and it might lure them here.
And it is that since the beginning of 2019 and until last March 24, in total Musk’s company has already launched 1,300 satellites and its goal of 1,440 is approaching. This huge constellation of orbiting satellites, distributed over almost the entire surface of the Earth, could be considered as the first prototype of a possible megastructure around the planet, which in principle could be visible from other places in the galaxy – almost like a hypothetical Dyson sphere.
Intrigued by this possibility, Zaza Osmanov, a professor of astrophysics at the Free University of Tbilisi, Georgia, has estimated that it would take around 800 years for SpaceX’s Starlink constellation to appear in any search for extraterrestrial intelligence carried out by another civilization.
In his article, moreover, the scientist states that the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the FAST radio telescope in China, if they were in deep space, could eventually find Starlink.
“One of the main factors is the observation time of a telescope,” said Osmanov, who made his calculations based on the brightness of the satellites and an observation time of one hour. “Although it also depends on the geometry, by the same value it can be estimated roughly that the number of satellites to make the construction visible from 100 light years should be of the order of 30 billion,” he added.
That would definitely require a lot of Falcon 9 rocket launches. However, it also suggests that since Elon Musk’s satellites transmit radio signals, the FAST telescope could detect them up to 520 light-years away.
Type 0.7 Civilization
Building a “megastructure” around the Earth, a concept reminiscent of Dyson spheres or ring-shaped structures would make us a “Type 1” civilization on the Kardashev scale, something we have not yet achieved.
It is a measure of how technologically advanced a civilization is based on how much energy it can use. Here is the scale:
- A “planetary civilization” (Type 1): you can harness all the energy on your planet, something we have not yet achieved and probably will not for about 1,000 years if our energy use increases by 1%. by year. We are currently classified as a “type 0.7” civilization.
- A “stellar civilization” (Type 2): it can harness all the energy produced by its parent star, possibly through a Dyson sphere.
- A “galactic civilization” (Type 3): it can harness the full energy of its galaxy.
The massive structures required for “stellar” and “galactic” civilizations might be easier to detect, of course, because they would emit intense visible radiation in the infrared. What Osmanov’s article ponders is whether something that we – an aspiring “planetary” civilization – could build now (specifically Starlink) could be visible from “out there.”
So with Starlink, perhaps SpaceX is building Earth’s first planetary megastructures, but it will be a long time before humans get close to having our own “tech signature.”