Fast Radio Bursts and Dyson Spheres: The Search for Extra Terrestrial Life
Imagine for an instance, you’re sitting out on your back porch, basking in the sun, smiling as the familiar sounds of a gentle summer day lull you to sleep.
Suddenly, the ground begins to shake, and thunder erupts from the heavens. A massive object envelops your field of vision. At first, you assume it’s an asteroid of some sort, but its appearance is too uniform, and its surface gleams a metallic green.
There’s something unnatural about its approach, it appears to be slowing down. The front end of the gargantuan object lifts as it comes closer to the Earth. The object balances itself, remaining perfectly still as it blots out the sun completely. They’ve finally arrived.
Who or what, you might ask?
Now, let’s ground ourselves for a moment. In all likelihood, this will not be our first encounter with an alien lifeform. Most scientists studying the possibility of life on other planets believe the first alien lifeforms we discover will probably be similar to extremophilic bacteria. Such organisms thrive in the harshest conditions known to Earth-dwelling creatures, making them well-suited for the extreme conditions found in space.
That being said, the search for intelligent extraterrestrials is not a venture to be taken lightly. Just a few years ago, the U.S. government proposed a bill that would allocate $10 million towards NASA and their search for “technosignatures” in space.
These technosignatures include a Fast Radio Bursts (FRB), which are “transient radio pulses of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process not yet identified.” Recently, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment discovered 13 FRBs, one of which is the second ever repeating FRB.
Many in the scientific community believe FRBs are the result of super-cataclysmic events such as the collapse of supramassive rotating neutron stars; binary neutron star mergings; the evaporation of primordial black holes; or more recently theorized, the buildup and collapse of a matter “crust” on certain types of neutron stars called “strange stars.” While all are plausible explanations, they still do not account for the fact that two of the detected signatures were, as the researchers said, “repeating FRBs.”
If these signatures were repeating, then that would mean their source of origin—the aforementioned stellar explosions—would be repeating as well, which makes no sense. So what is causing these peculiar, incredibly high-energy signatures?
Some believe that they are not the result of any natural, stellar event, but rather the mark of an intelligent, highly advanced alien species. There is the possibility that this particular species may have built a colossal radio transmitter to look for intelligent life such as ourselves, a beacon of sorts.
Another, more plausible alien theory, is that the FRBs are being used as a ‘wind’ of sorts, pushing the “light sails” of an alien spaceship. These extraterrestrial explorers would rely on a method of travel not unlike the vessels that brought Columbus to the Americas. A ship capable of this would also be capable of carrying approximately one million tonnes (to put that into perspective, the International Space Station weighs about 420 tonnes).
Interestingly enough, FRBs are not the only stellar event that have researchers scratching their heads. The star KIC 8462852, also known as “Tabby’s Star,” is known to dip in brightness—sometimes by one per cent, other times by as much as 20 per cent—and then returns to its former brightness, only to dip again thereafter. The reason this is so strange is because most stars do not oscillate their brightness in such a way. The repeating nature of the oscillations has led some to theorize that an orbiting alien megastructure may be to blame, as such a device would block light emanating from the star as it passes our field of view.
The idea of the megastructure was first postulated by Olaf Stapledon in 1937, through his science fiction novel ‘Starmaker’ in which he said: “Every solar system surrounded by a gauze of light traps, which focused the escaping solar energy for intelligent use.” The “light traps” he refers to are what are known as Dyson spheres, named after Freeman Dyson when he popularized the concept 23 years later in his paper “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation.” A true Dyson sphere, in theory, would cover a star completely in a massive, structural sphere, which would act as a solar panel, capturing all light energy emitted. It would be the pinnacle form of energy acquisition, but would ultimately require resources we could barely imagine.
Though the Dyson sphere is more of a thought experiment than anything else, it still holds some ground in the scientific community. Researchers from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence are on the lookout for excess infrared radiation, which would be indicative of the hypothetical Dyson sphere, as it has an estimated temperature ranging anywhere from 50 to 1,000 K.
Until then, keep your eyes open for the sudden extinguishing of a star; you may be witnessing an alien civilization hard at work.