On the Possibility of Detecting Class A Stellar Engines using Exoplanet Transit Curves

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D. H. Forgan (2013), JBIS, 66, 144-154

Refcode: 2013.66.144
Keywords: SETI, exoplanet, transits, megastructures

The Class A stellar engine (also known as a Shkadov thruster) is a spherical arc mirror, designed to use the impulse from a star's radiation pressure to generate a thrust force, perturbing the star's motion. If this mirror obstructs part of the stellar disc during the transit of an exoplanet, then this may be detected by studying the shape of the transit light curve, presenting another potential means by which the action of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) can be discerned. We model the light curves produced by exoplanets transiting a star which possesses a Shkadov thruster, and show how the parameters of the planet and the properties of the thruster can be disentangled provided that radial velocity follow-up measurements are possible, and that other obscuring phenomena typical to exoplanet transit curves (such as the presence of starspots or intrinsic stellar noise) do not dominate. These difficulties aside, we estimate the a priori probability of detecting a Shkadov thruster during an exoplanet transit, which even given optimistic assumptions remains stubbornly low. Despite this, many exoplanet transit surveys designed for radial velocity follow-up are on the horizon, so we argue that this remains a useful serendipitous SETI technique. At worst, this technique will place an upper limit on the number of Class A stellar engines in the Solar neighbourhood; at best, this could help identify unusual transiting exoplanet systems as candidates for further investigation with other SETI methods.

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