Well, this is interesting. This article just came across my feed this morning. Keep in mind, the ideas behind this are still VERY much theoretical. No one has even tested to see if it can be done. Even so, this is fantastic fodder for brainstorming and creative thought.
Spectroscopy is a very common aspect of science that is used across a whole slew of disciplines. If you’re a fan of any forensic science program on TV like CSI or Bones, then you’ve probably heard the term Mass Spectrometer. Basically, the idea is that if you point light at a material, it will reflect back light within a specific wavelength. This concept is pretty well proven and is used in applications from identifying elements and molecules crime labs all the way up to astronomy.
My interest here is in the astronomical aspect. When we search space, we are looking out using radio and light waves, looking at those waves that reflected off distant objects hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years ago. Take something a little closer to home, for example. When we want to know what the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan is like, we look at the spectral wavelengths reflected back at us. In this way, we can look at the specific elemental composition of what is floating above the surface of that moon.
However, these scientists think that they can manipulate the spectral wavelength of light reflected by one atom or element to look like completely different one. As I said, this has not been done yet, it is completely just a hypothesis (not even a theory, really).
Now for the what if…
What if some futuristic civilization wanted to make it so no one wanted to come to their planet? I have to wonder if they could use this technology to make their world look completely uninteresting to observers. Let’s say they’ve got a nice oxygen and water-rich atmosphere, perfectly nummy for some developing interstellar species to come and use for colonization. Could they, in theory, manipulate the upper levels of their atmosphere to make it LOOK like it was composed of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid, much like Venus?
Hiding an entire planet would be an incredible undertaking, but certainly something within the realm of a Kardeshev Type 1 civilization. (For a primer on the Kardeshev scale, Wikipedia’s entry explains it fairly simply.)
Let’s take it a step further, maybe. What if someone wanted to hide an entire space station? Could this be used as a type of a cloak? Wrap a space station in a material that can emit the right light-wave frequencies and you could in effect make it look like plain-ol’ hydrogen. There still might be residual heat, but that’s a separate technical issue.
And one step further… Could a Kardeshev Type 2 civilization use this tech as a way of hiding an entire star? I don’t even want to think about the insanity of that.
Of course, this is all spitballing. Still, I can’t help but wonder what kinds of applications could this be used on? Weapons? Defense? Scientific analysis? Who knows?
My ideas could be way off. After all, I’m certainly no physicist (much as childhood me wanted to be). But, when a story like this comes out, it gets my synapses firing. It makes me hopeful for our future, hopeful that this little mudball rocketing through space covered in sentient ape-descendants is not alone in this gigantic, hugely-underpopulated universe.
In case you missed the link earlier, the article I’m referencing is here: https://phys.org/news/2017-02-method-atom-emit.html