Astroforensics: The (New) Search for Alien Life

On August 26, 2011, Professor Paul Davies published a paper in Acta Astronautica entitled, “Footprints of Alien Technology.” In it, he suggests a new approach in the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. This approach, which he calls astroforensics, consists of police-style forensics techniques…employed right here on Earth.

Who is Paul Davies?

Paul Davies is an interesting guy. He was recently hired by the U.S. National Cancer Institute to help improve America’s extremely disappointing efforts at improving cancer survival rates. But he wasn’t brought in for his background in physics. Rather, he was recruited because he’s a “disruptive agent.”

“True, his naivety sometimes makes biologists grit their teeth. (‘Aaargh! Physicists!’ wrote Paul ‘PZ’ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, in a blog response to Davies’ proposal earlier this year that tumours are a reversion to primitive genetic mechanisms that pre-date the dawn of multicellular life.) ‘But his critics don’t appreciate the value of a disruptive agent,’ says biophysicist Stuart Lindsay, who works closely with Davies at the ASU physics–cancer centre. ‘It takes someone like Paul, constantly nagging, asking disruptive questions, to get people to take a fresh look at their assumptions.'” ~ Physics Meets Cancer: The Disruptor, Nature

Astroforensics: The (New) Search for Alien Life?

He’s also a well-known figure in the search for alien life, having worked with SETI  (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) for over thirty years. Now, he hopes to revamp the way mankind is searching for aliens through the incorporation of forensics techniques. While most people of a similar mindset suggest searching the solar system for large scale evidence such as “orbiting probes, artificial structures on planetary surfaces, and astroengineering projects such as Dyson Spheres,” Davies proposes an all-out search for more subtle traces…right here on earth. In other words, he hopes to encourage scientists across the world to keep an eye open for signs of what might best be described as “palaeocontact.”

“If alien civilizations do, or did, exist, their technology will impact their environment. Some consideration has been given to the detection of large-scale astro-engineering, such as Dyson spheres. However, a very advanced technology might leave more subtle footprints requiring sophisticated scientific methods to uncover. We must not overlook the possibility that alien technology has impacted our immediate astronomical environment, even Earth itself, but probably a very long time ago.” ~ Paul Davies, Footprints of Alien Technology

Davies is not a proponent of the “ancient alien” mania that runs wild today. Instead, he believes that if aliens visited the Earth, they most likely did so prior to the emergence of mankind. Thus, he proposes searching for traces capable of surviving hundreds of millions or even billions of years. Some possibilities include: nuclear waste, scars of large-scale mining or quarrying, a shadow biosphere, or messages left behind in DNA.

The last two options represent especially intriguing possibilities. Aliens might’ve created or accidentally left behind a “shadow biosphere” of life built upon a unique form of biochemistry that we have yet to understand. Also, they might have left behind traces or messages in DNA.

“My proposals aim to spread the burden from a small band of heroic radio astronomers to the entire scientific community. Projects like genomic SETI are an attempt to complement radio SETI, not undermine it.” ~ Dr. Paul Davies

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Paul Davies presents an interesting plan to widen the search for alien life. As we speak, large amounts of data are being collected in various scientific fields. He hopes to convince scientists to use forensic techniques to examine this data for “anomalies.” In its own right, this is a significant act. It’s also brave considering the fact that the very idea of aliens is dismissed by most reputable scientists.

Interestingly enough, Paul Davies doesn’t have an opinion as to whether alien life actually exists. Indeed, he’s known for describing the search as an attempt to find a needle-in-a-haystack “without any clue as to whether there is a needle there at all, or how large the haystack may be.” However, if alien life does exist, one thing is certain…Paul Davies is determined to find it.

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