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Curated by RSF Research Staff

Astrobiologist suggest looking for evidence of prior indigenous technological species

One of the primary open questions in astrobiology is whether life exists or has existed beyond Earth in the Solar System. Mars and the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn are often cited as perhaps the most likely sites for extant or extinct microbial life to be found, and much effort has been and will be expended to explore them for life. Less commonly mentioned, but also an open question, is whether intelligent life beyond that on Earth today may exist or have existed in the Solar System. This question poses distinct challenges because technosignatures produced by an intelligent species would be quite different from biosignatures (and might considerably easier to detect.)

This is at the heart of the radically different search strategies between Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the rest of astrobiology. SETI typically focuses on interstellar radio signals or other studies of objects beyond the Solar System, however an alternative search avenue has been appreciated for nearly as long: the search for alien artifacts within the Solar System. This has not only been a topic for science fiction (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey Kubrick, 1968) but in the SETI literature (e.g. Papagiannis, 1978; Freitas & Valdes, 1980; Freitas, 1983b; Gertz, 2016, and references therein). Indeed, the apparent lack of such artifacts has been used as evidence that humanity must be the only spacefaring civilization in the Galaxy (Hart, 1975). Despite Hart’s claim, we can hardly rule out such artifacts in the Solar System, as demonstrated by Freitas (1983a) and Haqq-Misra & Kopparapu (2012). In these discussions it is assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that the origin of such artifacts would be not just extraterrestrial (Haqq-Misra & Kopparapu, 2012, refer to them as “Non-Terrestrial Artifacts” (NTAs)) but extrasolar. But if such technology were to be discovered, we should consider the possibility that its origin lies within the Solar System, and potentially on Earth.

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