Searching for Alien Artifacts on the Moon

The "Blair Cuspids" photographed by Lunar Orbiter 2 in 1966. Credit: NASA

Two researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) have made a rather controversial proposal: have the public and other researchers study the high-resolution photographs of the Moon already being taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), to look for anomalies that may possibly be evidence of artifacts leftover from previous alien visitation. The theory is that if our solar system had been visited in the past, the Moon would have made an ideal base from which to study the Earth. The paper has just been recently published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Professor Paul Davies and research technician Robert Wagner admit that the chances of success are very small, but argue that the endeavour would be worth the minimal investment required. The photographs are already being taken on a regular basis by LRO. Any interesting finds could be examined by others including imaging professionals. Shape-recognizing software could also be used to help discern any possible artificial artifacts from natural ones.

From the abstract:

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has a low probability of success, but it would have a high impact if successful. Therefore it makes sense to widen the search as much as possible within the confines of the modest budget and limited resources currently available. To date, SETI has been dominated by the paradigm of seeking deliberately beamed radio messages.

However, indirect evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence could come from any incontrovertible signatures of non-human technology. Existing searchable databases from astronomy, biology, earth and planetary sciences all offer low-cost opportunities to seek a footprint of extraterrestrial technology. In this paper we take as a case study one particular new and rapidly-expanding database: the photographic mapping of the Moon’s surface by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to 0.5 m resolution. Although there is only a tiny probability that alien technology would have left traces on the moon in the form of an artifact or surface modification of lunar features, this location has the virtue of being close, and of preserving traces for an immense duration.

Systematic scrutiny of the LRO photographic images is being routinely conducted anyway for planetary science purposes, and this program could readily be expanded and outsourced at little extra cost to accommodate SETI goals, after the fashion of the SETI@home and Galaxy Zoo projects.

Artist impression of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA

Of course, it has been said by some that such artifacts have already been found and known about for decades but hidden from the public by NASA, et al. An entire cottage industry has grown around this idea. There are actually a handful of anomalies from various missions that would be interesting to see at much higher resolution via LRO, such as the well-known “Blair Cuspids” photographed by Lunar Orbiter 2 in 1966, although by far most unusual-looking objects are easily explained. It’s the same problem as with Mars; so many anomalies found by amateur observers are the product of pareidolia, lighting effects, image defects or even geology. Separating out any genuine anomalies from all of the noise would be a tedious and time-consuming task. On the other hand, we now have much better cameras in orbit around the Moon (and Mars) and more advanced photographic analysis techniques available.

Yes, the chances of finding anything are very small, maybe even nonexistent in the opinion of some, but if we have the images being taken anyway, and the willingness of some to study them, then why not? If nothing is found, no harm done. It something was found, well that’s another story entirely…

The abstract for the paper is here. (The paper itself costs $31.50 US to download).

This story has been translated into Portuguese.