The search for alien life just got even more interesting. A fascinating paper just went up on the arXiv server. It represents the results of a comprehensive analysis of satellite IR data, searching for evidence of Dyson Spheres going out to about 300 pc – about a million starts in total. Dyson Spheres are a theoretical construct which would be built by a civilization that had progressed to the point where they have the need to harvest the total amount of their sun’s energy. Basically, a Dyson Sphere completely surrounds a star with a multitude of structures that can collect and store solar energy, and would thus have a very characteristic astronomical appearance. The nice thing about looking for advanced civilizations this way is that you don’t need to depend on their interest/willingness to shine a radio/laser/etc. signal on you.
The results of the survey were interesting- only a few possible Dyson Spheres were identified out of the million or so stars, and all of the possibles have other potential explanations. I don’t know what is more interesting, the result of the study or the existence of the paper itself. The researchers are from a very respected academic center (Fermilab) and the paper itself is very well reasoned and written. It is pretty cool that this kid of study can be taken as seriously as it has been. I certainly will keep watching to see how the proposed analysis with data from new satellites (and correlations with SETI data) comes out…
There is a good general post over at Discover Magazine, too.
For more on Dyson Spheres, the article on Wikipedia is great (as usual!) and has solid references. Hopefully, Katie will have more insightful comments than mine!