Detection technique for artificially illuminated objects in the outer solar system and beyond

Abraham Loeb, Edwin L. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Existing and planned optical telescopes and surveys can detect artificially illuminated objects, comparable in total brightness to a major terrestrial city, at the outskirts of the Solar System. Orbital parameters of Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) are routinely measured to exquisite precisions of<10 -3. Here, we propose to measure the variation of the observed flux F from such objects as a function of their changing orbital distances D. Sunlight-illuminated objects will show a logarithmic slope α ≡ (d log F/d log D)=-4, whereas artificially illuminated objects should exhibit α=-2. The proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and other planned surveys will provide superb data and allow measurement of α for thousands of KBOs. If objects with α=-2 are found, follow-up observations could measure their spectra to determine whether they are illuminated by artificial lighting. The search can be extended beyond the Solar System with future generations of telescopes on the ground and in space that would have the capacity to detect phase modulation due to very strong artificial illumination on the nightside of planets as they orbit their parent stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)290-294
Number of pages5
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Artificial illumination
  • Astrobiology
  • Kuiper belt objects
  • SETI


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