Can the James Webb Space Telescope Find Alien Life? w/ Jacob Haqq-Misra

Can the James Webb Space Telescope Find Alien Life? w/ Jacob Haqq-Misra

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John Michael Godier  Um, Dr Jacob Huck Misro welcome to the program   now Jacob you recently released a paper that is  something that I've interested in a long time   and it's techno signatures that  we sort of thought all this time. Jacob Thank you for having me. John Michael Godier Enthusiasts of astrobiology that   we'd probably never be able  to do and that is detecting   agriculture on an exoplanet but  you found a way. Could you give us   an overview of using the Nitrogen cycle  of a planet to determine if somebody's. Jacob Yeah, absolutely um, you know   one of the things with trying to look for evidence  of Alien technology is we want to find something   that's going to last a long time if you burn  a bunch of Fossil fuels but you do it quickly.   The chances of us observing that is you  know an astronomy experiment is very slim.

John Michael Godier Practicing Wide-scale agriculture. Jacob but but agriculture is something   that you could do for a long period of time across  the whole planet's history and obviously humans   have been doing this for you know these tens ah  you know order of tens of thousands of years it's   not longer. Um, and. So the idea is like you ask  myself? Well what is the technology of agriculture   agriculture is more than just putting a seed  into the ground that's a start of course   but agriculture is is. It's embodied in the  fertilizer we're managing our planet's nitrogen   cycle and so you know we can get into the details  if you want a little bit but. You know in a   nutshell um plants and you need carbon dioxide  everybody learns this in in school hopefully   and plants take cotwo out of the atmosphere and  and they they use the carbon and they release   oxygen but plants also need nitrogen and we need  nitrogen. It's part of our Dna. Um, all all living   creatures need nitrogen in addition to carbon and  oxygen is just the basic food. That's the building  

blocks of our bodies and so what agriculture the  innovation with that is it started just you know,   simple. We think of it as simple, but this was  an innovation taking manure from whatever animals   you have around. And intentionally putting  that in your soil to enrich it then manure   being a source of nitrogen and you put it in the  soil. It gets broken down by microorganisms maybe   ancient people didn't understand exactly what  was going on but what they got was better food   production. Um, you know a higher productivity  in their fields. And so um, you know a little bit  

later in history. We were able to improve crop  productivity even more by doing crop rotation   realizing that nitrogen gets depleted in one field  after prolonged you know. Planting the same crop   over and over again. And so if you change crops  you plant beans Legumm something that actually   that the biology the plant is the nitrogen fixer  it pulls nitrogen back into the soil into learning   how to manage the types of crops you plant to to  kind of enrich the soil nitrogen so those were   the 2 innovations that let us. You know, kind of  to to the early twentieth century and then the   big innovation at that point is what we call the  haber bosh process. This is the idea that we can   tap into the nitrogen in our air about 70% of  the air is nitrogen and it's hard to to get it.  

Get it at but this is an industrial process where  you can. We can just take nitrogen from the air   combine it with hydrogen. It's a high temperature  reaction. So it's an industrial process that we   weren't able to do until very recently and we  use this to make ammonia which we can dissolve   in water and you make fertilizer out of this.  You can apply the ammonia to our fields and and.

Jacob You know this technique and   variations variations on this technique is how our  planet has been able to grow to billions of people   because we've been able to so significantly  increase our agricultural productivity   to be because of this this industrial synthesis  of nitrogen. So. To get to your question. How   does this lead us to a bio at a bio or techno  signature that we could observe so we're making   ammonia we're spraying ammonia into the field. The  ammonia some of it gets taken up by plant roots   but you have to put a lot of it out in the field  because that's a really inefficient process. So   some of the ammonia just. You know volatileizes  and gets back in the atmosphere some of it breaks  

down into nitrous oxide n two o that goes up into  the atmosphere. Both of those things ammonia and   nitrous oxide. Are are pollutants and they're not  they don't stick around in the atmosphere for very   long. They get rained out or or sunlight hits some  and they get broken apart but we measure these   on earth today from satellites. There's you know,  increasing and large amounts of these 2 gases and   the majority of them are linked to agriculture.  So the idea is because we can see this on earth   The only reason we can see those 2 gases on earth  at that abundance is because we're continually   doing agriculture continually spraying our fuels  with fertilizer. So if we were to see a planet  

It's like earth that has oxygen ozone co 2 on  it and then we also see a lot of nitrous oxide   and a lot of ammonia um, that would be a really  good indication that there's something like   this disruption of a nitrogen cycle. They're  doing something like the haber bosh process   or at the very least a ton of manure everywhere  they're doing something. To to actively manage   their nitrogen cycle because there's there's not  a lot of ways to keep that much ammonia and that   much nitrous oxide in the atmosphere for for  a long time but we're doing it so you know I   think it's worth keeping in mind as we we start  to search. The atmospheres of these exoplanets. John Michael Godier And that's been one of the   things within astrobiology because if you see an  earth. You know a planet like earth that has weird  

oxygen and methane levels. But you add in  this signature as well. You can reasonably   say that's not geological. that's that's ah that's  a civilization. But. What size of a civilization.   Um, so if somebody's looking at this this this  planet here from I don't know eighty light years   away or you know ten light years away something  like that is our. Signature in our nitrogen  

cycle visible at that distance or do we need a  much greater population than we have right now. Jacob Right?   Well you know fundamentally depends on  how big of a telescope do they have but   but we we're kind of exerting ah a barely  detectable signal. Um, you know for the   kinds of telescopes that we have or that we're  thinking about building so you know there's   the James Webb Telescope which probably wouldn't  do a great job with this. But there's like the  

the next generation of space telescopes  like you know that are being considered um   you know the bigger the telescope the fainter the  signal you you can you can detect. But as far as   something that we're like thinking about doing um  you would probably need you know anywhere from 30   to a 0 people. You know we're like you know  close to 8 or so um, so you know hopefully   our planet doesn't have that many people because  I think we have some sustainability problems but   you know maybe we'll figure that out and if not  I mean there's there's no reason hypothetically   um that that. Another civilization couldn't  grow to that level or that you know level of  

energy consumption. It's not that many creatures  but you know the energy consumption required by   30000000000 people is kind of what we're talking  about so so it's you can sort of just imagine what   would it take for an advanced civilization to  feed itself over long periods of time and right   now we're dealing with you know growth in our  population and growth in our energy consumption.   So when I say 30000000000 or one 0 people for  earth. Sort of a scary thought because we don't   know how to put the brakes on yet. But but really  what we're talking about is any civilization  

that's reached a sustainable growth. Whatever that  level is 30000000000 people equivalent energy use.   But but you're able to do that indefinitely and so  that's that's one of the things that I like about   this idea of agriculture. As a techno signature.  It's not dependent on growth. Even though we're   growing today. Um, you can stabilize and you  need to still feed yourself and it's not like   combustion of fossil fuels where you're  going to run out of fossil fuels in a few   hundred years we have plenty of nitrogen in  the atmosphere. We're not going to run out.  

You can do the hyperperbosh process with renewable  sources of energy. So so this is the kind of thing   that you could imagine a large thirty billion  equivalent person population on another planet   but they've figured out sustainable development  and they stay about 30000000000 people equivalent   for for a very very long time. So so you know  I think I think we're barely detectable now.   But it's the kind of you know idea that that  lets us ah think about what could be out there. John Michael Godier But one also has to remember that we're   you know? Yeah yeah, we're somebody else's alien  civilization but we ourselves are just a sampling   of one. We're all that we know about but it may be  that there are solutions to population growth. As   1 stretches out into their star system and begins  to explore space. There. There may be solutions   like multiple planets or things like that so  you could easily think of situations where   an alien civilization might terraform an otherwise  dead world like Mars or something like that to   be an agriculture planet and that's. This is  where we grow the food you know and maintains  

their population elsewhere. You know in I don't  know O'neill cylinders or you know on on their   original home world or something like that and  they just use for some reason a planet just for   agriculture now. In such an ideal situation. There  are other technosignatures involved here such as   the vegetative red edge that you could look for  to see if these analogs you know exop plants if   you will are also you know, really there so this  is actually something that you could. Take further  

than just a nitrogen cycle. Once you see the  nitrogen cycle you could say well we need to look   at this in infrared and that might be where James  Webb might be of more use wouldn't you think so. Jacob Well, nice. So I totally agree with   you on you know the the red edge tells you if you  know it could be an indication of photosynthesis   on a planet and so that that can be a biosignature  you could look at earth and and find a red edge.  

So yeah, if we're talking about a planet. Ah, some  of the colleagues I work with manasvi lingham and   others use these he calls these a service worlds  you know a planet that's dedicated to an an   industrial project like agriculture. Um, so yeah,  if you had something like that a terraformed world   or a service world there'd be other things that  you would want to look at and that would depend   on. You know how far away the planet is from  its star. How much terraforming was required  

and and and things like that. Um, as far as  searching for it. Um, you know I mean I'm excited   about the James Webb space telescope because this  is one of our first chances to like really try to   get a good look at you know some of these. Planets  that are a little bit more earth-like maybe you   know one of the trappist 1 planets? Um, but you  know like you said so with the the red edge. This   is an infrared signature but to look for evidence  of of ammonia and nitrous oxide that would also   be most likely an infrared. Signal and probably  these things would be a little too far into the  

infrared for the James Webb space telescope the  James Webb space telescope has some mid-infrared   capabilities. The the question is how detectable  will these species be so. Um, you know you don't   know until you look, but it's not super optimistic  that some of these you know, mid-infrared techno   signatures will necessarily be strongly detectable  with with the James Webb space telescope um so so.   You know we gotta try. We're not going to be able  to look at as many targets as we'd like to at the   James Webb space telescope as many earth-like  planet. So so you know hopefully we'll get lucky   but the real excitement will come in the  generation of telescopes after the James   Webb space telescope and which which would  be able to detect. You know dozens of these  

earth-sized earth-like habitable planets  so those are hopefully the ones that will   have more capabilities for for sort of really  characterizing signatures in the mid-infrared. John Michael Godier That's what I'm hoping for   is luvvoir you know, let's build a really  big one. Um, now you've written on other   techno signatures that are based in  chemicals. In this case, we're looking at   good old and Hydro Ammonia which I being  from a Cornfield State I I know it? well. Jacob Right.

John Michael Godier But there's also there's also cfcs and cfcs   are a double-edged sword because you can use  them to refrigerate and destroy your ozone   layer or they are very efficient greenhouse  gases and you can terraform with them.   So This seems like something that. Might  use and it should be a pretty unnatural   signal if you see it Now. Could you give  us a profile of cfcs as a technosignature. Jacob Sure yeah I mean as you mentioned   you know cfcs are an industrial gas. Um, they were  banned by the montreal protocol. Um, one of the  

you know success stories of an environmental. You  know, political treaty actually having an impact   and and getting universal buy-in. And and there  was a pretty you know, clear demonstration of of   chlorrofluorrocarbons being responsible for the  the loss of ozone especially in in Antarctica um,   but these things stick their very long atmospheric  lifetimes they stick around for a long time and so   even though. Ah, many of the harmful greenhouse  gases are no longer being produced. There's  

still many of them in the atmosphere they they  just have you know lifetimes of 10 to you know,   even hundreds of years or longer for some of them.  Um, so the idea if if you could observe if you   observed. Cfc's inners atmosphere or if we observe  cfcs in the atmosphere of another planet. Um,   you know there's there's not really other ways  that we know that biology makes these things   they're really kind of big complicated molecules  that we use industrial processes to make. Um,  

and so these again have a lot of you know, main  main their main signatures in the mid infrared.   Um, but so if we saw that it would be a  clear pretty convincing evidence of you   know something like alien pollution if we were  to see that elsewhere. But as you say ah. What   kind of alien civilization is going to want you  know all this greenhouse warming to stick around   so this gets into terraforming and good. Maybe  you're using the chloropfloocarbons to terraform   your planets or maybe your post-biological  life form and you don't care about.   Effective cfcs on your environment I  mean you you could speculate about that.  

But you know the idea that if you saw this  it would be it would make you raise your   eyebrows and and think that there's something  technological going on on the surface is the idea. John Michael Godier Now what seemed to me that this this would   open up the the possibility of a combo now imagine  mars in the far future and we're terraforming it   using very efficient greenhouse gases like  cfcs if you see a planet an exoplanet that.   Has a thicker atmosphere with cfcs in it than it  ought to have because it's the size of Mars and   it should have lost it then it would seem to me.  You have a very clear technical signature right. Jacob No I Think   that's a great example, right? Yeah, if you  if you saw you know, especially like you say   let's say there's a habitable planet like Earth in  this you know, conventional, habitable zone and it   looks like it has water and Oxygen and then  there's just Mars -like planet outside of   that habitable zone and has cfcs and a thick  Gap Ticker atmosphere I mean. Yeah, you could   imagine scenarios where you could infer you know  strong evidence of of something like terraforming.

John Michael Godier And especially if you   start where it would get really creepy and  interesting is if you started seeing clusters   of Star systems with habitable worlds like  this that are all close together. So yeah. Jacob Right? Well well this is this is you   know gets into the fermi Paradox.  You know if if interstellar you know   settlement is a common thing and  not that difficult for advanced   you know civilizations then where are they  why you could have colonized the galaxy   multiple times if. If you can do do so with  exponential growth and so um, yeah, you know,   maybe the answer is is. There's just little local  pockets of the galaxy that have been settled   like that and yeah, we don't know we haven't  looked enough yet to be able to rule that out. John Michael Godier And now to invoke another   one of your papers. What happens if it's not  exponential and that Alien civilizations as  

they colonize the galaxy do it in a way that  we don't expect a non exponential expansion. Jacob I think you have to do non   exponential expansion and this even gets into what  we were just talking about with with farming. Um,   if if you if your growth outpaces. You know  your ability to to produce resources. That   that's fundamentally what sustainability or  unsustainability is defined as and so if if you're   above your carrying capacity too for too long  then you collapse and there's examples. You know   in human history of this and and then hopefully  as a whole we avoid this for ourselves. But you  

can imagine the same thing at the galactic level  if if you colonize the whole galaxy very quickly   at an exponential scale. You hit ah a wall where  you have nowhere else to go and if if your whole   civilization has to grow in order to to continue  thriving then you then. You're kind of out of   luck at that point and you collapse so you know at  the very least after the whole galaxy is settled.   You have to put on the brakes and stop the growth.  Um, so I think what's more likely is you know how?   how are we going to figure this out. You know we  have to figure out what our carrying capacity is   that's a hard number to estimate. Um, you know  it's anywhere from 1 to 100000000000 people.  

Um your your take you know it's hard to figure  that out. But but certainly there's some limit   as to how much food we can produce on the planet.  How much energy we can produce per person before   we grow beyond that limit. And so how far can  we expand into space onto first other planets  

and to to other star systems. So um, you  know my my pragmatic mind says you know maybe   you can't actually expand past your stellar  system. It's probably maybe it's really hard   to have. interstellar travel and interstellar  settlement but maybe the limit is the is the whole   star system and so maybe you know we can go  to Mars and use resources at the outer solar   system and and things like that and maybe  that's the limit to growth but maybe not.   And so maybe all all that's saying is that it's  really difficult to settle the whole galaxy really   quickly because you run into these limits and  so yeah, maybe there's small pockets where other   civilizations have figured out how to settle  nearby stars. They're not doing this in this   exponential. Growth pattern but they're just you  know doing it within their carrying capacity and  

then you move to another star system and you can  grow a little bit but but you're not you. You have   the idea of growth within the carrying capacity  in mind from the beginning and so you could you   know a slower growth civilization like that  would not necessarily have reached earth. Jacob Anding and   where they started and we would not have  necessarily found them and so these these   are the kind of things that well they're fun  to think about, but you know and they can help   help us you know in some ways and think about  how to do this search. For techno signatures on   other planets where to look and what kinds  of signatures we might want to look for. John Michael Godier So now one has to ask a question. Um, we have  

a relatively close star system. You know proxima  centauri and it has apparently exoplanets and   might it just simply be that it's not worth it.  In other words, we sit there and we say well we   got this beautiful earth. You know this eyeball  were you know there's a gorgeous world and that   thing over there is an eyeball world with some  liquid water but it's tially locked and it just   doesn't look all that great. Not great enough to  send a bunch of instruction materials four and  

a half light years to settle and that might be  the simple plans or is that they stay at home.   Because there's just not that many suitable  planets and unless you're really close to   another earth. There's not much point  you know? Um, yeah, so that may be   the solution to the fermi paradox is that  space travel is hard and it's not worth it. Jacob Yep yep, that's totally possible. John Michael Godier And it's better to focus   on your own ah planet of origin  or your own star system. Anyway.

Jacob That that that's right I   mean you know I even wonder where we'll go with  Mars I mean I think it's fun to think about.   Um I mean I even have a book coming out this  winter about you know so the settlement of Mars   but I'm I'm kind of agnostic about whether or not  we should you know develop. Permanent settlements   and cities on Mars I think we will send  people to Mars for sure that's going to happen   eventually but will it stay limited to you know  a handful of explorers astronauts you know Spacex   employees or will we really have you know a city  with a million people on Mars and I just think.   It could be the way that we you know nobody  really lives in Antarctica other than you know,   a handful of of small science and and worker  collectives that that you know do research you   know there's there's not a lot of people living at  the bottom of the ocean and in underwater cities   like some science fiction authors speculated  about. Um, I just wonder if Mars will be like   that like we'll we'll send people there  but you know I've said this to my wife   earth is my favorite planet like I want to  stay here. This is this is a great place.

John Michael Godier It   it really is and I liken it to Mount Everest  because Antarctica is nice compared to Mars   right? Antarctica you know we can actually  breathe in Antarctica you just need a lot of   insulation. But Mars now now. So I think of it  in terms of Mount Everest and that there are. Jacob The phrase. John Michael Godier Plenty of people on   this world looking to summit Mount  Everest even though it's often deadly.  

You know there are over a hundred corpses on  that thing. Um, but they still do it because   it's there and there's a certain type of person  that will do it but they always come back down.   They don't live up there. You know that you  don't build a house on top of of Everest. Jacob  Um, that's right and and most people  are fine. Not every climbing efforts. John Michael Godier And as a result I think   yeah and most people we just stay here and  play video games down here at sealevel.   Um, so I I think that there will be a certain  type of person then there will be a market for   it for going to Mars but I don't think anybody's  going to want to live there and I think that.

Jacob Breath. John Michael Godier It'll just prove to be a   vacation destination for the foreseeable future.  Um, now I think it's coming quickly though I mean   it seems that Spacex and Elon Musk have not  wavered from their ah plan to get somebody to Mars   and and go there. So think it's gonna be fast I  think it's gonna happen. But I don't think people   are gonna stay and that speaks to the fering  paradox of course because it just may be that   the footprint of even a highly advanced alien  civilization is very small and it's possible I   think that it could even get smaller and smaller  as. As the you know the aliens progress because of  

things like nanotechnology and the the answer to  the firm paradox is that aliens are hard to see. Jacob That could be too. Yeah, they   could be everywhere and really really small. Um,  yeah, and then of course there's the inverse that   you know maybe they're They're really advanced  and we're like ants and we just don't perceive   anything about them at all and and you know we  we could be staring at them. You know in ways  

that we have we have no clue it could be in dark  matter or something you know I'm not necessarily   saying. That's my favorite idea. But just we  we have no idea what could be out there and   and there there is that possibility that we would  not even recognize. A more advanced civilization   if we saw it especially given the fact that it  has to achieve a long-term sustainability with   its environment. So You know the agriculture is  an attempt to get at what a signature of sort   of a long-term civilization could be. The  cfcs I mean it's a nice idea to talk about,  

but it's hard to think about how that would  be long live same with Combustion. So We maybe   don't know enough yet about what to look for  for a really long live advanced civilization. John Michael Godier  And the fun thing about the agriculture  is that could be forever in other words   millions of years yeah millions of years of  agriculture as a is a constantly sustained   techno-signature that they don't have  to. They don't have to put any energy in. Jacob That could be forever. Yeah. John Michael Godier And other words it's   not a gigantic omnidirectional radio beacon  that you have to power with a star. It's no,  

it's just simple agriculture and  it's a byproduct of being alive.   Um, but assuming of course that they eat the  way we do and things like that. But it's just. Jacob Exactly. Jacob Well it it just   assumes that they need Nitrogen because you can do  whatever you want with it. It's just an industrial   process for harvesting the Nitrogen. So and there  could be something else like it if if you don't  

want into the form of Ammonia but um. Like yeah  if you're talking about like Silicon based life   that uses really weird chemistry then it might  be be different. But I think I think there's an   argument that even weird life as long as it's you  know, maybe likes similar carbon-based organics.   The Nitrogen is going to be Useful. It's It's all  it's a limiting factor for life on Earth I think   it could certainly similarly be a limiting factor  for other kinds of organic chemistry elsewhere.

John Michael Godier  And it also has to be said too that you know  people will always make the argument that   you can't know anything about aliens. But  I think there are a few things that you can   and 1 of them is that evolution occurred.  Because it just doesn't seem like an organism   that can think is going to pop into it in  existence in this universe any other way.   You know it's going to take a long period of  evolution to get there. Um, oh well, yeah, that.

Jacob Right? Well unless you're   building a robot and then something  had to evolve to build the robot. John Michael Godier Well, that's where it gets scary   is that if you if you start looking at techno  signaturetures and you're able to determine that   they're all technological and I think that Joe  Stack has predicted this that they're all machines   and that what biology biology is just a stepstone  to something else and then you got to ask. Jacob Yeah, it could be the total could be. John Michael Godier What happened to the   biologicals you know, um, that's the 1 thing that. Jacob Yeah, and then that   that gets you back to the fermi Paradox where's  the robots then they should be here. Maybe. John Michael Godier They should be um or I don't know because I mean   you could also make the case that a robot may not  care I mean it just may live entirely in its head   and just not care about the universe all it cares  about is collecting up resources and computing.

Jacob Yeah, it depends what I guess was programmed to do   I mean I know that like a lot of like you know  Seth shostack and some of the other seti institute   people have you know thought about robot being you  know the keepers of the long-term beacon. You know   they're like the lighthouse operators on like  geologic time scales and so you have this rope. John Michael Godier In which yeah.

Jacob This radio   beacon transmitting throughout the universe  as like a monument to a civilization that   once was and you know they're kind of or you  know any variation of that kind of a theme. John Michael Godier Yeah, there's ah the idea of the data ohm where   your your data your collective information. Your  civilization has built up is your greatest gift to   the universe So you try to preserve it somehow and  send it out there even though you may be gone now. Jacob Um, right, right? exactly.

John Michael Godier Again in these these   these scenarios that we're Discussing. We're  assuming that the civilization doesn't go extinct.   But if you see cfcs in an atmosphere. It could  be that they're destroying their world and that   they're they're on their way out which is. You  know, possibly our case, you know we don't Know.   So Do you think that? that's it it it becomes at  some point a necro signature if you see it and.

Jacob Well if you see   it. You know. So if they're dead right? That's a  good question that have thought about you know,   what's the signature of of a dead civilization a  graveyard and a dead dead 1 is really difficult.   Maybe unless you're on the planet doing  archeology but but short of that to do remote. Jacob Searches for dead civilizations I think is really   difficult but like yeah, okay, if we saw something  with cfcs. You know we saw like basically earth   but maybe with elevated cfcs. Um. Yeah I mean  maybe that might make us think that you know   did we get really lucky and we found planet  just when it was you know, ah about to go   on an unsustainable trajectory  with astronomy we kind of have to.  

At least that the the first assumption you make  is that if you assume something if you observe   something that it's it's probably been around  for a long time. I mean you you could observe   something like a supernova that's a transient  event or gamma rebirth to transient event   and and that. You know, existed in an instant  of time. But if you observe a star or a planet   in sort of a steady state where you take you  know're you're observing it for many hours or   many days or however long and you're looking at  the light curve and whatever you know the the   absorption of the gases as atmosphere is telling  you. Um, you know you could be lucky in finding   the civilization finding this planet just on the  cosp of of before it goes goes unsustainable,   but the safest assumption is most of the time  with astronomy catching things as they are   in sort of a long-term average like they're  into the. Typical state for that object.   So yeah, if we found cfcs in a planet like that  I mean we would just you know we don't know   everything about what a planet can do. We would  really have to just start scratching our heads and   looking at more information about  that planet just to see is this really   just like earth before it collapses or is  this. Something else. We don't understand.

John Michael Godier Now something like a dying civilization or a let's   call him not a dying civilization but a mitigating  civilization. Do you think it'd be fruitful   to look at things like a sunlight star that's  older than the sun you know type g that's older. Jacob Ah, okay.

John Michael Godier And its luminosity is   increasing and it's it's trying to bake. Its its  its habitable. Zone are formerly habitable So   by ah so the the aliens would then  do. Drastic measures like a gigantic   sunshade around the world that might be visible  in a light curve and a couple like light curve.   Do you think that we should start targeting  in study certain worlds like that where a   civilization is forced. Into building some  kind of mega structure to survive and. Jacob I mean the idea is is certainly   you know something that we can talk about ah you  know and people talk about that for earth today   you know, megastructures or geoengineering I mean  in terms of targeting specific systems like that.  

Um. I think we just still don't know enough about  which systems are most likely to develop life and   then technology because you know it could be that  you know earth-like planets around g stars are   really great for for producing technology  eventually. Um, it could be that. You know   mdorf planets are really great and there's a  lot more of them or you know depending on what   the odds are maybe it's a little bit more likely  for a g dwarf system but not by much and there's   a lot more m dwarf systems and they've been you  know a lot of them are really really old. So.   You know it's hard to say which one is is I mean  this is certainly why it's it's important to do   research on these to make priorities. Um, so so I  guess there's there's sort of 2 answers. 1 is what   I'm telling you now is that it's hard to say which  types of systems are really going to be the best   for. Figuring out what civilizations are toward  the end of of their life. Um, but at the same time   the mdwarf systems these small red dwarf systems  are probably the ones that are going to be easiest   to look look at with the you know James Webb space  telescope and the upcoming mission. So so though  

for better or for worse those are the ones we're  going to get more information about um, you know   if you're talking about looking at systems with a  radio telescope the way the Seti Institute does um   you know that's a fine hypothesis. But I think I  think it's it's really hard to say at this point. John Michael Godier  I Think what would be all right? So my own  feeling on this is that if we ever detect an   Alien civilization. It's it's gonna be something  we don't expect in other words, we'll be you know,   studying a pulsar and all of a sudden We see  a techno signature associated with the pulsar.   And then we're left with the great mystery of  what are they doing where were they originally   From. They're not from that pulsar you know  something like that and that's what I'm hoping for   just just just for hopes is that if we do see  an Alien civilization. It's doing something   really weird that we can learn from um or if they  if they're destroying themselves. And they're at  

a more advanced stage of destroying them sort  of themselves than we are Again. We can learn   something from that. Observationally even if  we don't get like a hello message which we'll   probably never be able to decipher. But um, now  do you think that if we do get a techno signature   and say. Let's take the Wow signal. For example,  which looked to be technological and it's weird   and we still don't to this day know what it was  do you think it's going to be really hard to   detect Aliens simply because they're so transient  and that their signals don't repeat like ours. Jacob Well, that's that's a great example. Yeah, the  

wow signal was you know, whatever it was. It was  a transient signal and so that made it difficult   to figure out what the source of it was and so  you know the the atmospheric techno signatures.   We've been talking about things like like you  know. Agriculture or cfcs or things like that.   Um the idea is to try to find ones that  aren't very transient and so even cfcs   are at least you know in an atmosphere of  a planet for some prolonged period of time.   You know it could could be tens to hundreds or  even longer depending on, especially if it's   terraforming then it is a prolonged intentional  presence of the gas. Um yeah radio signals um can   be a little more difficult if if a radio signal  is not a continuous signal. Then it's difficult  

to you know verify where the source is if you  if you just send us 1 signal out into space.   It doesn't really matter if somebody picks up  that signal because it's going to be difficult to   identify where it came from if they're not able to  continually you know to define the signal again.   So so yeah I mean again, what we want are are  you know what are technosignatures that are   are long lived and you know which what are  kinds of technos signatureatures that are   are unambiguous or or have you know, not not very  difficult to identify as technological so radio   has that advantage it could be you know.  Fairly you know apparent that there's this   narrowband radio signal that might be difficult  to make with any other known physical process   but are we going to find a repeating radio signal.  That's really actually convincing to us and we   haven't found one yet. I mean I think we should  keep looking but. Hasn't haven't done one yet.

John Michael Godier Now We have a   a a a handful of candidates stars  that are doing something weird that   you know we have trouble finding a natural  explanation for but we don't want to invoke   aliens Yet. We're not to that stage on any of  these things and examples would be tavi Star.   Or Shabisky Star which seems to have Transuranic  elements in it that it shouldn't have and things   like that and the Wow signal So We have these  these sort of hints that maybe you know,   but again this this speaks to what you just  said ambiguity. They're ambiguous and that. Jacob Right.

John Michael Godier Thanks a question and I mean   is is are there techno signaturetures that  are just so unambiguous that if we detect one.   It's there It is and there would be no debate  about it. It has to be an Alien civilization. Jacob Well sure   you could imagine one I mean suppose. Ah a  lunar Rover a chinese have a rural rover on   on the moon I think there was some rock  formation. They investigated. In fact that   you know some some people had suspected was some  some artificial you know technology and so. Yeah,   you just walk up. You know roll your rover up to  some structure if it turns out to be some you know  

silicon monolith with electronics on it  and and ah you know a serial number with   characters. We don't recognize I mean you can  imagine something that that could be. I don't   describe any likelihoods to these sorts of things.  But I mean I think the point is remote evidence   is always going to be really difficult and have  a lot of of uncertainty and ambiguity to it   versus you know. Ah, physical object. Let's say  there was alien garbage floating around the apoid   belt and you picked it picked it up and you you  know that that would be very convincing. Um,   you know free forget about technosignatures for a  moment just the idea of looking for biosignatures   just evidence of life even microbial life that.  Just you know is is in a methane atmosphere an  

oxygen-based atmosphere or something like that if  if you know James the James Webb space telescope   or you know the luvex future mission were to  detect one of you know an earth size planet in   the habitable zone with water vapor and methane  and ozone and co 2 scientists would be debating   that for you know decades as to whether or not  that signal is robust and you'd have to have   followup missions on it. Um, but if you set to  spacecraft there to enter the atmosphere and   take measurements you know it would be a lot more  easier to to say what you're really looking at so   in situ measurements. You know are always more  convincing just we have no idea you keep giving   back to fermi paradox you know is there alien  garbage in our civilization or is nobody visited   here and and if nobody's visited then we have  no hope in getting that sort of inseeu evidence. John Michael Godier I now that's something that strikes   me as a very long-lived technosignature. Okay,  not so much alien garbage but alien mining so   somebody passes through the solar system at some  point in the last four point five billion years   and depletes an asteroid of certain materials.  And say we find an asteroid that just is   appears to have been mined and it's just  the tailings. That's always you know,  

just a big ball of tailings and all of the I don't  know say nickel or iridium or something like that   is gone. Um I would so it would I would imagine  that that would last indefinitely right I mean.   You could detect that billions of  years after the operation ceased. Jacob Yeah I mean we we haven't started   asteroid mining yet I mean that would be you know  quite the discovery if an asteroid mining team   started operations on an asteroid you only to  realize that like all the good stuff is gone.   Um, but be be. It would be quite the Discovery.  Um, so yeah, we don't. We don't know we we have   not searched asteroids Well enough to know. Yeah,  if Asteroids have been mined either by passing  

through Extraterrestrials or robots that are you  know floating through space or um, if some of the   objects in the Asteroid belt themselves are the  remnant of of. You know Alien Spacecraft I mean   eventually a spacecraft could you know would get  broken apart into very very small pieces and and   dragged to sort of a stable orbit. But but  these you know we don't understand our own   solar system backyard nearly as well as as maybe  many people think we do. There's lots to learn   everywhere we we we know something but but the  amount of stuff We don't know is is tremendous. John Michael Godier Now your thoughts on   self-replication the von neumann probe and  the idea that you could you could station a   such a probe self-replicating probe in all of the  stars of the galaxy if you wanted to within short   order geologically speaking. So in geologic time  you could do it in millions of years and boom.   Everybody's got one. Do you think that an alien  civilization would actually do that. Do you think  

that? that's that's something that is just too  fanciful to expect or could it have happened. Jacob I mean I I don't see any reason   why it couldn't have happened just it seems like  you know when I talk to someone who steadies ai,   there's no theoretical reason why you can't  have replicators and they worked out the math   for it and um I mean. You know there's some  things where I don't like to give my gut   sense for but for this one, my gut sense  is you know, probably not like it's worth   thinking about every now and then what it what if  the roof on Norman Propes everywhere it comes back   to the fermi paradox and why haven't we seen them  and I mean you know I just wonder like how long   can hardware last but. For it. Fails. There's  always something I'm a computer guy I guess  

maybe that's where my skepticism comes in that  like even with self-replication. There's there's   sort of obsolescence with with like you know  changing environmental conditions and there's you   know. Unintended environmental consequences like a  cosmic Ray shower can disable electronics. There's   I think a 1% chance 1% of electronics failures  are just random cosmic race hours today. So   I think there's just a bunch of things that  could go wrong without. And think robots   work. Well when humans are there to do service  on them. But but I'm not sure. Yeah but but  

but that's just my personal opinion I know people  who study ai who think very differently about it. John Michael Godier  Yeah I have to admit a a slight amount  of skepticism on the matter because of   the reasons as just stated it's it's it's hard to  keep a machine running for 1000000 years without   touching it. You know and I wonder if that you  know you would need just an unbelievably advanced. Jacob Um, yeah. John Michael Godier Machine that that probably needs   to actually be conscious which do you think it's  even possible to ever make a machine conscious. Jacob Well, that gets into what is consciousness and   you know that's a big topic. Um, you know I don't  know that it matters necessarily I think for for   the sake of what what we want to know for techno  signatures is could you make a machine that sort   of has like self-directed. Goals and I think it  doesn't matter if you call that consciousness or  

not just you know if if the machine can replicate  and and have self-directed goals and then maybe   do some process of self-repair and improvement  then it's doing a lot of the things that life   does and and that humans do and and. Yeah, if  you get that far who knows where it could go. John Michael Godier So favorite solution to the fermi paradox   what is your gut feeling and I'll give you mine  I think that intelligence is simply rare and that   you know there's just doesn't happen very much and  you look at earth and we're the only thing that   creates a radio signal so and it took. Four and  a half billion years to get to that stage. Do you   think it's just that intelligence is a rare or do  you think there's a more novel favored solution. Jacob Well,   that could be so this is one where I don't  like to give my favorite approach but I can   I can tell you what I do think is I think we're  probably not going to see a planet or civilization   in that sort of middle stage where it's it's dying  or it's in this threshold. Period If not, you know   where is it going to go I think we're either going  to observe a planet where it's got simple life on   it and there's no technology or we're going  to observe a planet where there's technology   and they've figured out how to make it last over  geologic time I think I think we're not going to   see anything in the middle. And so what I think  we have to do then is you know, build luux and and   couple other telescopes too. Get better better  better mid infrared coverage and search dozens  

or more habitable habitable zone exoplanets and  see where that distribution lies because if most   of them. Have no technology. We don't we and and  we think we're doing the search. Well, that means   that the transition from where we're at to a long  lived sustainable technological civilization is   really really hard and it either never never  happened like you're saying. It happened a bunch   and they all failed at it and they all collapsed.  But if we do that search and we find a bunch of   technosic signatures everywhere then they all  figured it out I think the only reason we will   see Technos signatures is if they figured it out  how to have this long geologic time sustainability   with technology. And if we see that Well, that's  really encouraging because that means that   there are solutions at least in in theory to  these problems that we have and you know whether   we can learn from them or not directly  at least indirectly. By example, we know  

that this is a navigable path. So  um. I Think that's the reason we   need to do to search because it'll help  us know which which way are we gonna go. John Michael Godier You know I think ultimately   the the answer will come from just centuries  of looking because if you look for centuries   actively and you see nothing Well, there's  your answer. It must be rare or nonexistent   or if you find something  or we're not looking right. Jacob Or we're not looking right. John Michael Godier Or you know we come across some technology or some   ah better understanding of the areas of physics  that we don't currently understand very well   and then we find that they  were doing that you know   I don't know gravitational wave  communications or something like that.  

So if we see nothing. Over a long period or we  see something over a long period. They both answer   the question. Basically so all we have to do is  look and continue looking right? That's right. Jacob If you don't look. You won't answer the question. John Michael Godier Right? Jacob we are out   of time for today and thanks for joining  us and I hope you come back sometime next   time you release another paper all right  now took 1 question that a lot of people   have and it's going to come up in the  comments is what if they're already here. Jacob Um, thanks so much for having me.

2022-05-27 22:30

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