Can Alien Smog Lead Us to Extraterrestrial Civilizations?

A new study modeled whether we could find intelligent life on another planet—by looking for its pollution.

Last March, when Ravi Kopparapu was still working from his desk at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland, he came across a press release from NASA’s Earth Observatory. Levels of Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) had plummeted over China since the country of 1.4 billion instituted strict stay-at-home orders more than a month earlier. He texted his colleague Jacob Haqq Misra with the link: “Technosignature?” he wrote. “Oh interesting!” Haqq Misra replied.

The observations had piqued Kopparapu’s interest, and two months later, still thinking about the ways that modern societies pollute their

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