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When we gaze up at the night sky, we might be accidentally eavesdropping on an alien conversation.

At least, that’s according to Imperial College London quantum physicist Terry Rudolph, who last week published preprint research theorizing that an advanced extraterrestrial civilization might alter the light coming off stars in order to communicate across great distance, almost like a series of interstellar smoke signals.

The physics of the ordeal get a bit dense — which is probably reasonable if aliens are rapidly communicating across star systems — but the basic idea is to use entangled photons from different stars to transmit messages that appear to be random twinkling to any nosy onlookers.

The idea, Rudolph notes, is technically possible as far as the physics are concerned, but pure speculation when it comes to any discussion of alien technology. But as he writes in the paper, any entangled communication among stars “can be rendered in principle indiscernible to those of us excluded from the conversation.”

So if there were a mega-advanced civilization out there colonizing the Milky Way galaxy, communication along the lines of what Rudolph has proposed could explain why we haven’t found any evidence of life beyond Earth.

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