Recently I’ve been looking at the pictures that have been made of exoplanets. There aren’t many that have been directly imaged. The smallest of them has around double the mass of Jupiter, and is about 10 times further from its star as Earth is from the sun. Then again the VLT has only been around for about 15 years now. And the technology of Astronomical interferometry is only going to get better. And when we finally start moving into Space Interferometry, well that will change things even more.
And that got me thinking. What are the chances that we will be able to directly image an earth sized planet, in a goldilocks orbit, and see the lights of its civilizations before S.E.T.I. is able to find a radio signal from an alien civilization? And how quickly would the image become as iconic as this one?
How much would we be able to learn about the species in question just from the distribution of lights? Remember that amazing picture of the Korean peninsula taken from the ISS? It said a lot about the state of North Korea didn’t it? Think what we could learn from observing the distribution of light of an alien planet? In fact I think there’s a good story idea in that. 😉
But how big would the virtual mirror have to be in order to see detail at that level? I don’t know, but I do know 16 virtual meters is not going to cut it. Would a group of satellite telescopes orbiting the earth, and thus having a virtual mirror the diameter of the earth be enough? I don’t know, but I’m going to try and find out. I thinks it’s an intriguing question. I mean lets face it, S.E.T.I. has been at this for decades and although they could find what they’re looking for today, it could also take another 50 years. In the meantime technology is getting better and better. Who knows maybe we really will see them before we hear them?