Are aliens altering a star’s light spectrum so the universe can see them?

Wednesday, 19 April, 2017

Broadcast signals, radio and television for instance, might be one way an extraterrestrial intelligence could go about advertising its presence. For all the perils of doing so, of course.

The thing with regular broadcast signals though, is they degrade the further they move from their source. Ideas that any inhabitants of any planets orbiting Regulus – a star eighty light years distant – may be able to tune into TV shows first broadcast on Earth eighty years ago are fanciful, to put it mildly.

How then to tell the rest of the universe you’re there, if signal degradation is a concern? Altering the light spectrum of your host star may be a possibility.

Przybylski’s Star is about three hundred and seventy light years from the Sun, but its optical spectrum is baffling astronomers, on account of the presence of certain heavy elements that should not be there.

The star is laced with oddball elements like europium, gadolinium, terbium and holmium. Moreover, while iron and nickel appear in unusually low abundances, we get short-lived ultra-heavy elements, actinides like actinium, plutonium, americium and einsteinium. Hence the mystery: How can such short-lived elements persist in the atmosphere of a star?

How indeed? Some people have speculated that an alien intelligence is somehow adding in these unusual elements, as a way of drawing attention to themselves. It all sounds a bit complicated though. Why don’t they make a few TV shows, and broadcast them on a strong signal, instead?

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