Are We The First Advanced Civilization in The Solar System?

Are We The First Advanced Civilization in The Solar System?


Humans are believed to be the most technologically
advanced civilization that’s ever set foot on Earth, or really anywhere in the Solar
System. But are we the first? Could there have been an advanced civilization
that walked the Earth millions or even billions of years ago, and then died out long ago,
their technology and structures lost to the eons. And how could we know? In the last 100,000 years or so, modern humans
like you and me evolved here on Earth from our ancestors. We started out in Africa, but then over thousands
of years, we migrated to every corner of the planet. Our impact on this world is clearly visible. You can can see it in the air, across the
land, the oceans, and even out in space. Humanity is a technological civilization,
and we’re bending this planet to our will. If an alien was dropped down in the middle
of a modern human city, it would be immediately obvious. But even in the most remote places on Earth,
the right scientific instruments would show our impact on the water and atmosphere of
our planet. But if humanity suddenly disappeared from
Earth, our planet would reclaim it. Plants and animals would recolonize our spaces. The Sun, wind and rain would weather down
our buildings and monuments. The natural cycles of the planet would clear
out the evidence that we were ever here. Eventually, plate tectonics itself would drag
evidence of human existence down into the mantle, destroying it forever. Fast forward a few hundred million or billion
years into the future and it would be almost impossible to know humans were ever here. Which makes us wonder, could we know if we’re
actually the first advanced civilization to live here on Earth? If another civilization came before us, how
could we find them? This is a question that Dr. Jason Wright,
an exoplanet researcher and associate professor at PennState University posed in his 2017
paper titled: Prior Indigenous Technological Species. The paper is all about where we might find
evidence for previous advanced civilizations here in the Solar System, and what might have
happened to them. Before I get started, let me be clear. Don’t get your hopes up. There isn’t a single piece of evidence anywhere,
at all, that there was ever another civilization. But we’ve only scratched the surface of
exploring our Solar System. In fact, we’ve barely even explored our
own planet. And conditions could have been different in
the past. The probes and rovers exploring other worlds
in the Solar System have told us that the conditions we see today is just a phase the
planets are going through. Billions of years ago, the Sun was cooler,
Venus was probably less terrible, Mars was warmer and wetter, and more places in the
Solar System could have been habitable. Perhaps an ancient civilization could have
survived on one of those worlds, or even the early Earth, and then became a spacefaring
species, spreading to other worlds in the Solar System. In order to search for those ancient civilizations,
consider what kinds of impact humans are leaving on the Earth. That’ll be the first place to search, since
it’s easiest to get to. But Earth is active and the surface is under
constant weathering. Open pit mines, where intelligent species
dug out valuable minerals would have filled in, or been weathered away. Radioactive isotopes from ancient nuclear
reactors might be visible for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, but eventually
they’d decay. And over the longest timescales, the Earth’s
shifting plate tectonics would obscure almost any sign. But the Earth also keeps a history of its
atmosphere and water in the geologic record. The pollution from an advanced civilization
could be stored in those layers of sediment over vast periods of time. According to Gavin Schmidt and Adam Frank
in their new paper called “The Silurian Hypothesis”, which yes, is named after the
lizard-like Silurians from Doctor Who, there could be signals in the geologic record. They explain how little we actually know about
the ancient Earth. The oldest part of the Earth’s surface is
the Negev Desert in southern Israel, which is only 1.8 million years old. There are older surfaces from mining or exposure
and uplift, but you have to go looking for it. There’s no part of the ocean floor older
than 170 million years old. Since only a fraction of living creatures
that have ever existed would show up in the fossil record, Schmidt and Frank say that
any civilizations that didn’t last longer than about 4 million years wouldn’t show
up in the fossil record for more than a blip. You’d mostly likely miss it. But what about the chemicals humans have been
putting into the air? Humans have released 500 billion tons of carbon
into the atmosphere over the last couple of centuries, and that’s adding a layer to
the geologic record that could be detectable for millions or even billions of years into
the future. And not just carbon, we’re also emitting
trace elements like lead, chromium and even gold, which will be more concentrated than
what you’d randomly detect if it all formed naturally on Earth. Humans have even changed the fossil record
itself, increasing the number of species that hang out with us, like mice and rats, and
killing off the mega fauna. That might be detectable as well. In other words, if future civilizations looked
carefully, there would be evidence of humanity’s presence, long after all the other evidence
had weathered away. Perhaps if we look carefully, we’ll eventually
find evidence of an ancient civilization that was destroyed eons ago. But what if they knew they wouldn’t be around
forever and wanted to leave some kind of record of their existence? We’ll get to that in a second, but first
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get in on the action, head over to patreon.com/universetoday. Let’s say that an ancient civilization knew
that they weren’t long for this Solar System, and wanted to leave some kind of evidence
for us to find, to know that they were here long ago. What should we be looking for? What if a civilization wanted to be remembered? Jason Wright says that other places in the
Solar System would be better preserved. There’s no wind or water erosion on the
Moon, just the radiation from the Sun and the constant stream of micrometeorite impacts
that churn up the surface. Mars has more weathering, but still, there
are features largely unchanged over vast periods of time. An ancient factory could get covered in dust
or worn down by erosion and look like a rocky outcrop. The best evidence is probably underground,
safely protected from the ongoing surface erosion. But we’d need orbiters or rovers with ground
penetrating radar to peer beneath the surface. For example, NASA’s Europa Clipper is going
to be equipped with an ice-penetrating radar instrument that should be able to peer kilometers
beneath the thick ice on the Jovian moon. There could even been free floating objects
in the Solar System like ancient space stations. They’d have been abandoned long ago, and
they probably wouldn’t work any more. The micrometeorites and solar radiation would
be working hard to wear them down. But we see comets and asteroids which are
relics from the early Solar System, largely untouched over billions of years. The Golden Records on board the Voyager spacecraft
were designed to last at least a billion years, long enough for the spacecraft to cross almost
the entire Milky Way at their current speed. What if an advanced civilization purposefully
gathered their knowledge and evidence of their existence and put it out into space where
we could find it. Although this sounds like a pretty crazy idea,
in fact, humans are working on something like this right now. There’s a group called the Arch Mission
Foundation, and they want to archive the knowledge of humanity and store it on the Moon. If all goes well, a rocket launched to the
Moon in 2020 will be carrying an Astrobiotic Peregrene lunar lander. It’ll be carrying the entire contents of
Wikipedia, as well as a compilation of human languages, and other content embedded into
a microfiche that you could read if you had a 1,000x magnification microscope. Once the lander settles down on the Moon,
it’ll be safe and sound for billions of years, for any future civilizations to learn
about our history. I know, I know, you’re wondering what would
happen if it gets hit by a stray meteor. That’s why the Arch Mission Foundation would
like to build more and spread them across the Solar System, to preserve the legacy of
humany for our future robotic overlords to enjoy. If they’re there, why haven’t we found
them? In their 2012 paper titled “On the likelihood
of non-terrestrial artifacts in the Solar System”, Jacob Haqq-Misra and Ravi Kumar
Kopparapu calculate how difficult it would be to find artificial objects in the Solar
System. Space is big, and it’s hard to find things
unless you know exactly where to look. If there was a 1-10 meter space probe out
there in the Solar System containing the total knowledge of an advanced ancient civilization,
there’s almost no chance we’d find it with the state of our current exploration. Maybe something on the Moon or Mars would
turn up, but imagine if they put it in a nice stable Lagrange point or out at the Kuiper
Belt to minimize the damage from solar radiation and asteroid impacts. Clearly, we need to explore more of the Solar
System. You know what would look better than a lander,
though? A monolith. Imagine if we put these across all the worlds
in the Solar System, with instructions about which worlds are yours, except Europa. Just saying. Are we the first advanced civilization here
in the Solar System? Probably. We haven’t found any others. But there are places we can look and techniques
we can use to find anyone who was here before us. So what do you think? Are we the first advanced civilization in
the Solar System? What kind of monuments would you build to
let future civilizations know we were here? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Once a week I gather up all my space news
into a single email newsletter and send it out. It’s got pictures, brief highlights about
the story, and links so you can find out more. Go to universetoday.com/newsletter to sign
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8 thoughts on “Are We The First Advanced Civilization in The Solar System?

  1. Perhaps we have like the face on mars or structures on the moon continuously blurred out by NASA… let's check phobos too, as Aldrin believes it to hold structures from some sort of ancient civilizations

  2. There's a lot of evidence of previous advanced tech, on earth. Look up "OoPArts," or out of place artifacts. The antikythera mechanism, for example. Absolutely amazing.

  3. Just look at the egypt time line, we humans cannot make what they had made then. They al ready been here and maybe dropt us here.

  4. I wouldn't be surprised if in the 100's of millions of years that vertebrate based animals had developed a sentience level equivalent and or greater than the intelligence of dolphins and wolves. As it is, even orangutans and otters have gained the minimal technological achievement of using tools to gain advantages in the natural world. It might be beneficial to look for fossil evidence of ancient animal rudimentary tool use in one of the epochs before it becomes impractical to search for such sparse evidence on the rapidly changing Earth.

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