Oxygen could discovering AliensUniversity of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw

The “oxygen bottleneck” could be the key to discovering alien technology, describing the critical threshold that separates worlds capable of fostering technological civilizations from those that fall short.

Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank explores the links between atmospheric oxygen and detecting extraterrestrial technology on distant planets.

He said: “Without a ready source of fire, you’re never going to develop higher technology.”

In the quest to understand the potential for life beyond Earth, researchers are widening their search to encompass not only biological markers but also technological ones. While astrobiologists have long recognized the importance of oxygen for life as we know it, oxygen could also be a key to unlocking advanced technology on a planetary scale.

In a new study published in Nature Astronomy, Adam Frank, the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester and the author of The Little Book of Aliens (Harper, 2023), and Amedeo Balbi, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Roma Tor Vergata, Italy, outline the links between atmospheric oxygen and the potential rise of advanced technology on distant planets.

Adam Frank said:

“We are ready to find signatures of life on alien worlds. But how do the conditions on a planet tell us about the possibilities for intelligent, technology-producing life?”

Amedeo Balbi said:

“In our paper, we explore whether any atmospheric composition would be compatible with the presence of advanced technology. We found that the atmospheric requirements may be quite stringent.”

source University of Rochester