Over the years a number of schemes have been suggested to identify, or facilitate contact with, intelligent extraterrestrials. Among the most famous is the SETI project (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) promoted by astronomer Frank Drake.
And then, just last year, a study group proposed searching for artifical light radiating from the dark side of exoplanets. They argued such a find would prove the existence of not merely alien life, but intelligent life.
Now the newest idea involves a novel search that might appeal to hairdressers as well as astrophysicists and exobiologists: nailing down planets that support intelligent life forms by searching for the chemical residues left by hairspray.
Hairspray and ET
Working with the hypothesis that advanced space telescopes—currently busy at work discovering exoplanets orbiting far flung stars in the galaxy—can also gather data on those planets in the "Goldilocks Zone" (planets with an environment conducive to supporting life as we know it), Dr. Sara Imari Walker has launched an initiative to fund a project designed to hunt and detect atomospheric chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
What exobiologists are seeking is evidence of geoengineering or terraforming on alien worlds. That can take the form of eithe intentional or unintentional changes in the atmosphere. Scientists hypothesize that a gas like CFC may be a good indicator of intelligent life because such a gas is artificial.
"Our hypothesis is that evidence of intelligent life might be evident in a planetary atmosphere," Astrobio.net reports astrobiologist Mark Claire saying at the nonprofit Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. Blue Marble provides a global network for scientists.
Other technosignatures of advanced life include atmospheric evidence of higher than expected carbon dioxide, ammonia, or sulfur hexaflouride that is a tip off large scale industry may be taking place.
Another astrobiologist from Blue Marble, Sanjoy Som, explained, "An industrialized civilization will be one that will use its planetary resources for fabrication, the soon-to-be-detectable-from-Earth atmospheric byproducts of which could be a tell-tale sign of their activity."
From the project website: "We will discover the theoretical chemical fingerprints of extrasolar planetary atmospheres potentially affected by alien industry, and make this catalog available to researchers worldwide. With hundreds of extrasolar planets being discovered, and hundreds more to be discovered in the years coming, it is within reason to think that a small portion of these planets could inhabit intelligent life. Creating the means to detecting such life is thus important and timely."
The project is a nonprofit start up venture and the scientists at Blue Marble encourage the public to assist with funding the venture. "This project will move forward only if it is funded. We invite the public to take part and be included in our adventures by pledging a small amount of money to our efforts," Som told Astrobio.net. "We are a small 501(c)3 nonprofit science organization with a strong emphasis in science communication. All donations are tax-deductible!"
The project webpage also has a video presented by Dr. Walker and instructions on how to make a pledge to be part of the effort to find intelligent alien civilizations.