Scientists claim we can find aliens by looking for ... hairspray?

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Jan 14, 2013

We're trying all sorts of things these days to dig up evidence of extraterrestrial life. We're sending out probes, building new telescopes and testing new detection methods, but one scientific team thinks we've been looking in the wrong places. If we really want to prove aliens exist, we need to look for hairspray. Well, sort of.

A team at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a nonprofit group composed of scientists around the world, is out to search for alien life not by finding water or seeking lights in the sky, but by proving that alien life has directly impacted the atmospheres of alien planets.

For years, scientists have been developing hypotheses for how human beings might one day terraform alien worlds, altering their atmospheres so we can safely live on other planets without spaceships and airlocks. Well, the Blue Marble team believes that if humans are already thinking about doing it, then advanced alien civilizations may have already done it, and if they have we should be able to see it in the atmosphere.

But how do you prove that aliens exist on a planet just by looking at the atmosphere? Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) may be the answer. Once commonly used in products like hairspray and air conditioners, CFCs are entirely artificial, so they can't exist in an atmosphere unless something put them there. They also linger as greenhouse gases for a very long time after they're used.

"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," said astrobiologist Sanjoy Som of the Blue Marble Space Institute.

Unfortunately, Som said, we don't have the technology yet to detect the atmospheric compositions of faraway worlds through telescopes, but we're about "a decade away." In the meantime, the Blue Marble time is seeking funding to generate computer models that predict how CFCs would behave in the atmospheres of alien worlds.

"We will then test if these features are detectable over interstellar distances, by severely downgrading our computed signal to mimic the signal quality of next-generation telescopes," astrobiologist Mark Claire said.

If the Blue Marble team is right, and the science catches up to their theory, we might one day be able to find an alien world just by looking at the gases that surround the planet. So yes, hairspray really could one day lead us to E.T.

By the way, the Blue Marble team is raising public funds for its project right now via the crowdfunding site Petri Dish. They need $24,000 by Jan. 9, so if you have a few bucks to throw to science, head over to their page here.

(Via Huffington Post)