The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been one of the most intriguing and controversial endeavors of modern science.
The idea that some alien civilizations might have advanced enough to harness the energy of their entire galaxy, creating what are known as Kardashev Type III civilizations, has fascinated and puzzled astronomers for decades.
However, a new study by a team of researchers led by Jason Wright, an astronomer at The Pennsylvania State University, has found no evidence of such supercivilizations in 100,000 nearby galaxies. So the most far-seeing search ever performed for “Dyson spheres” and other artifacts of “astroengineering” comes up empty.
The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, used data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite, which scanned the entire sky in infrared wavelengths between 2010 and 2011.
The researchers looked for signs of excessive waste heat, which would be a byproduct of a civilization using a large fraction of the starlight in its galaxy. Such heat would make a galaxy appear brighter in infrared than in visible light.
The researchers found that none of the galaxies they examined showed an infrared excess that could be attributed to an alien civilization. They also calculated an upper limit on how much energy such a civilization could use, based on the observed infrared brightness of each galaxy.
They found that even the most advanced civilizations could only use up to 50 percent of their galaxy’s starlight without being detected by WISE.
The results suggest that either Kardashev Type III civilizations are very rare or extinct in our local universe, or that they exist but have found ways to avoid producing waste heat, such as by using advanced technologies that are beyond our current understanding.
Wright and his colleagues acknowledge that there are limitations and uncertainties in their analysis, such as the possibility of missing faint or distant galaxies, or misinterpreting natural sources of infrared emission as artificial ones.
However, they argue that their study provides the most comprehensive and sensitive test of the existence of Kardashev Type III civilizations to date, and that it has important implications for SETI and astrobiology.
They also hope that their work will inspire further research and observations to refine and expand the search for alien supercivilizations in other parts of the universe.
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