"The Earth is already anomalously bright in the radio part of the spectrum," said Mike Garrett, the director of Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester. "If the trend continues, we could become readily detectable by any advanced civilization with the right technology."
Garrett and his colleagues used crowdsourced data to simulate the leakage of radio signals from cell phone towers and to see how hard these signals would be to discover from other planets. Their findings were published February 2023 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The researchers found that Earth emits lots of signs of technologically modern life, with radio leakage originating from cell phone towers, satellite communications and internet signals. They said these signals could reach theoretical civilizations living around adjacent stars, including Barnard's star – a red dwarf star located six light-years away that may have a large, Earthlike planet orbiting it.
However, the researchers noted that these signals could only be detected by aliens with more sensitive instruments than those found on Earth. But as the signals get louder, even less technologically smart aliens could possibly detect them. (Related: Scientists confirm that mysterious radio signals from outer space are not made by humankind.)
"I've heard many colleagues suggest that Earth has become increasingly radio quiet in recent years — a claim that I always contested. Although it's true, we have fewer powerful TV and radio transmitters today, the proliferation of mobile communication systems around the world is profound. While each system represents relatively low radio powers individually, the integrated spectrum of billions of these devices is substantial," Garrett said.
The detectability of humans is likely to rise as Earth's broadband systems become more powerful. According to Garrett, current estimates suggest that humans will have more than 100,000 satellites in low Earth orbit and beyond before the end of the decade.
The findings in the study, of which Garrett is the lead author, showed that the radiation from mobile towers is changeable in intensity and recurrent in nature because of its non-uniform distribution on Earth's surface and the rotation of the planet.
The researchers determined that any nearby civilization situated within 10 light-years of Earth and equipped with a receiving system comparable to the Green Bank Telescope are not going to find the mobile tower leakage from Earth. But those equipped with next-generation telescopes like Square Kilometer Array or SKA "could do better."
And the detectable signals from Earth will only grow stronger over time. Future research should involve other sources of radio leakage like individual mobile handsets, military radar, digital broadcasting and Wi-Fi networks, they remarked.
"Every day we learn more about the characteristics of exoplanets via space missions like Kepler and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, with further insights from the James Webb Space Telescope. I believe that there's every chance advanced civilizations are out there, and some may be capable of observing the human-made radio leakage coming from Earth," said study co-author Nalini Heeralall-Issur, an astrophysicist at the University of Mauritius.
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Study: There are 36 other ALIEN CIVILIZATIONS in our own galaxy, but humanity is too far away to communicate with them.- Astronomers pick up radio signals from planets outside our solar system for the first time