Astronomers assume aliens are more open to solar power than Mitt Romney

The first U.S. presidential debate of 2012 took place on the evening of Wednesday, October 3. Energy policies were discussed by both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama opined that “We’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar.” Romney, on the other hand, brought up gas permits on public lands, and he stated, “I’ll double them, and also get the . . . the oil from offshore and Alaska. And I’ll bring that pipeline in from Canada.” He also stated, “By the way, I like coal.” Although Both candidates support using fossil fuels for America’s energy needs, Romney’s emphasis on utilizing fossil fuels as a power source rather than promoting alternative energy sources was apparent during the debate.

It is likely the U.S., and Earth as a whole, will be dependent on fossil fuels for years to come. But a team of scientists is betting that extraterrestrials have embraced solar energy.

Simple illustration of a Dyson Sphere. (Credit: Vedexent/Wikimedia Commons)

In September, a team of three astronomers began searching the universe for Dyson Spheres–basically massive structures of solar panels. Although it may seem presumptuous to assume what type of energy technology alien civilizations might be implementing, team leader Jason Wright explained to the Atlantic that the assumption is mostly based on biology:

Life, by definition, uses energy, which it must reradiate as waste heat. The larger the civilization, the more energy it uses and the more heat it reradiates. Life also (by definition) reproduces, which introduces the possibility of exponentially increasing energy demands. If left unchecked, those increases will eventually outstrip the available energy on a planet. That would leave a growing civilization no choice but to mine energy from other planets and, eventually, their stars.

Artist’s illustration of NASA’s WISE. (Credit: NASA/JPL – Caltech)

If Dyson Spheres exist, their heat signatures would be visible to infrared telescopes. Earlier attempts to locate Dyson Spheres have been unsuccessful, but Wright’s team will have access to better tools that weren’t available to previous researchers, like NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), which is hundreds of times more sensitive than the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) that was used in previous searches.

The team’s search for Dyson Spheres will last two years, and will span the Milky Way, as well as millions of other galaxies. According to the Atlantic, this latest Dyson Sphere project recently received “a sizable grant from the Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds research on the ‘big questions’ that face humanity, questions relating to ‘human purpose and ultimate reality.'”

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