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Energy Hogs

August 2, 2015

A space telescope known as WISE compiled a catalog of more than 750 million objects — young stars, brown dwarfs, asteroids and comets, dusty galaxies, and many more. But it didn’t find any super-civilizations that are soaking up the energy of all the stars in their home galaxy.

The craft wasn’t actually looking for such civilizations. But astronomers at Penn State realized that it might have seen evidence of them nonetheless.

Decades ago, scientists had suggested that a super-civilization might use massive structures to gather the energy of all of a galaxy’s stars. Some of that energy would heat up the light-gathering structures, causing them to glow at infrared wavelengths — the type of energy that WISE was studying.

So the astronomers looked through the WISE catalog, and identified 563 targets of interest. When they took a closer look at those objects, though, they found that not one looked like a civilization that was using the energy of all of its galaxy’s stars.

They did find 50 objects in which a civilization could be gathering half of a galaxy’s starlight, and another 90 that could be using a quarter of the starlight. Most of those objects are likely to be starburst galaxies, which are giving birth to many new stars, or perhaps a class of unusual spiral galaxies.

Still, it’ll take some time to rule out the chance that at least one of these objects could be home to a super-civilization — powered by an entire galaxy.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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