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Could ET civilizations detect us by the radiation from our cell-phone transmission towers?

May. 04, 2023.
3 min. read 6 Interactions

Powerful radio-frequency radiation could broadcast Earth to other stars in the future. But is that a good thing?

About the writer

Amara Angelica

195.55513 MPXR

Amara Angelica is Mindplex Senior Editor

Radio leakage generated by mobile communication towers on the Earth (credit: Oxford University Press)

A research team at Mauritius University in Africa, Manchester University in England, and SETI in Mountain View, California decided to find out.

Ramiro Saide at the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California (credit: Ramiro Saide)

In previous SETI studies, scientists have calculated the radio-frequency power from television towers. In this new study, the team instead focused on higher-power radio leakage to space generated by mobile (cell-phone) towers on the Earth as it rotates on its axis.

They calculated the peak power (~4 gigawatts, the equivalent of about 12 million photovoltaic panels, according to generated by these towers and what power levels could be received by three different viewing points in our galaxy: Barnard’s star, HD 95735, and Alpha Centauri.

The study found that any technically advanced civilizations — within 10 light-years of the Earth and receiving systems with a sensitivity similar to the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) [not to be confused with Chat GPT] — could not currently detect radio leakage from Earth. 

More powerful future Earth radio-frequency radiation

However, the team plans to expand their research. They estimate that by the end of this decade, there will be more powerful civilian and military radars, new digital broadcast systems, and more powerful Wi-Fi networks and individual mobile devices.

There will also be added satellite constellations, with the [questionable, problematic] planned launch of more than 100,000 satellites in low Earth orbit and higher, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink system, they estimate.

Potential risks

The idea here is to increase our visibility to aliens, with the implicit speculation that aliens are “advanced and altruistic,” says David Brin, PhD, in Shouting At the Cosmos,” and yet [the aliens] are choosing to remain silent… should we not consider following their example and doing likewise? At least for a little while? Is it possible that they are silent because they know something we don’t know?”

Brin also notes in Mindplex Podcast: Episode 1 The History And Future Of AGI: “I think that there’s reason to believe that if we are in contact with aliens, that we’re a reality show. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out many decades from now that they were purposely provoking us to have material for something like keeping up with the cro-magnon this or Oh, Those Humans.”

Chat GPT on risks with alien cultures

Interestingly, GPT-4 agrees with Brin’s warning, offering (after three anodyne pros — discovery, collaboration and understanding), this response to a “Should we communicate with alien cultures in the universe?” prompt:

  • Potential risks: Communication with alien cultures may pose risks to humanity. If they are technologically advanced, they might pose a threat to our existence, either directly or by introducing advanced technologies that could destabilize our society.
  • Cultural contamination: Interactions with alien cultures could lead to the loss of unique human cultural aspects, as well as the potential for the spread of harmful ideologies or practices.
  • Miscommunication: The potential for miscommunication is high, given the likelihood that alien languages and communication methods may be vastly different from our own. Miscommunication could lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, or other negative consequences. …

“In summary,” GPT-4 adds, “the decision to communicate with alien cultures should be made carefully, considering both the potential benefits and risks. It is crucial to develop strategies and guidelines for such communication to minimize potential dangers while maximizing the opportunities for discovery and collaboration.”

Your comments?

Citation: Ramiro C. Saide, M.A. Garret, N. Heeralall-Issur, Simulation of the Earth’s radio-leakage from mobile towers as seen from selected nearby stellar systems, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 522, Issue 2, June 2023, Pages 2393–2402, (open-access)

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One thought on “Could ET civilizations detect us by the radiation from our cell-phone transmission towers?

  1. Here are some of my thoughts regarding the potential intelligent life in the expanding space close enough to be able to interact with us in any way: If there is any life capable of receiving the signal I think the probability that they couldn't find us anyway is quite small. If there indeed is some intelligent life out there, I'd guess that there are a huge number of such civilizations and not just a few of them. Would they all remain similarly silent? Would they all avoid connecting with us? On the other hand, it certainly can't be ruled out that all those noisy extrovert civilizations get wiped out. Maybe, for example, meaningful communication is so fundamentally difficult that both parties end up getting destroyed by accident. Or maybe the problem is fatal viruses or bacterias. Or maybe something we just can't understand yet. However, I'm still a bit more on the side that there is no-one close enough.
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