NASA researchers have developed a new technique to search for advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that could potentially live in nearby star systems.

NASA’s new technique controls the level of pollution on the planet. High Nitrogen dioxide levels may point to a widespread industrial process, but of course this is a valid argument, assuming that a distant civilization evolved similar to us and burned fossil fuels for energy. This also assumes that they are at roughly the same evolutionary stage as us; maybe they are much more advanced than we are and have found more efficient ways to generate power, such as manipulating magnetic fields or gravity.

NASA’s Ravi Kopparapu wondered if, as part of a recent study, we could detect alien life by looking at the atmospheric pollution of a distant planet. Since potentially habitable worlds are so far away, we can’t send a spacecraft out for a closer look. Rather, we have to rely on observations from powerful telescopes to help detect signs of life.

One possible way to do this is to look for the presence of certain gases such as nitrogen dioxide. NO2 is a common byproduct of burning fossil fuels around the world. The study seeks to determine whether the presence of high NO2 levels can be detected by observing the light reflected from an exoplanet as it orbits its star.

Computer modeling suggests that future large NASA telescopes could actually detect high NO2 levels in exoplanets as far away as 30 light years, given at least 400 hours of observation time. Let us state that a single light-year is the distance light travels in a year, which is equivalent to about six trillion miles.

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