Scientist Says Interstellar Travel Might Be Possible Without Spaceships

Although a warp drive almost certainly doesn’t exist, there’s no law of physics that says interstellar travel isn’t possible. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the idea of ​​science fiction isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and why some scientists aren’t afraid to seriously consider how such a thing might work.

Enter a new research paper in the International Journal of Astrobiology, in which author Irina Romanovskaya, professor of physics and astronomy at Houston Community College, proposes that extraterrestrial civilizations might already be doing this in a particular way. Indeed, Romanovskaya says that interstellar travel would likely create technosignatures — such as radio waves, industrial pollution, light pollution, or anything that would suggest the use of advanced technology — when extraterrestrials engage in such trips.

Astronomers and astrophysicists have typically searched for extraterrestrial life by looking for biosignatures – such as water, oxygen or chlorophyll – on other planets. But interestingly, Romanovskaya proposes that interstellar travel could happen via free-floating planets, not starships, as we see in the movies.

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“Some extraterrestrial civilizations may migrate from their home planetary systems to other planetary systems,” Romanovskaya writes. “They would most likely encounter serious or insurmountable technical problems when using spacecraft to transport large populations over interstellar distances.”

“With little starlight reaching floating planets, extraterrestrials could use controlled nuclear fusion as an energy source, and they could inhabit the subterranean habitats and oceans of floating planets to be protected from space radiation.”

Essentially, Romanovskaya thinks aliens could be “cosmic hitchhikers” taking advantage of various flyby events via free-floating planets. Unlike Earth, floating planets are not gravitationally bound to their stars like Earth, which makes them more mobile. A study published in the journal Nature Astronomy has found at least 70 nomadic exoplanets in our galaxy, suggesting they are not as rare as scientists previously thought. It is possible that these planets have liquid oceans under thick layers and some could even harbor simple life forms.

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“Some advanced civilizations can send their populations or technologies to other stars during flyby events, some advanced civilizations can build stellar engines, and some advanced civilizations can use free-floating planets as interstellar transport to move their populations to other stars. ‘other planetary systems,’ Romanovskaya wrote. “Various methods of interstellar migration and interstellar colonization can contribute to the spread of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations in the Galaxy, and each method of interstellar migration can produce a set of observable technosignatures.”

OK, but how exactly would extraterrestrial civilizations use these planets to travel through the galaxy?

“With small starlight reaching floating planets, extraterrestrials could use controlled nuclear fusion as a power source, and they could inhabit the subterranean habitats and oceans of floating planets to be shielded from space radiation,” Romanovskaya said. “It would also prepare them for ocean colonization in planetary systems.”

Not everyone in the world of astrophysics agrees that hitchhiking on lost planets is a viable method of interstellar transit. Avi Loeb, the former chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department, told Salon that he saw “no obvious advantage in using a floating planet instead of a spacecraft.” Loeb has previously argued that a rare interstellar object, called ‘Oumuamua, exhibited nearly every trait one would expect from an interstellar alien probe when it passed through our solar system in 2017.

“The only reason Earth is comfortable for ‘life as we know it’ is because it’s warmed by the Sun,” Loeb said. “But a free-floating planet is not attached to a star, and its surface would be naturally frozen.”

Additionally, Loeb said the large mass of a free-floating planet would make it more difficult to navigate to a desired destination.

“It’s much easier to design a small spacecraft that provides the ideal habitat, engine, and navigation system,” Loeb said. “It’s much better to own a car than to hitchhike.”

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