Do the ion trails from ion engines leave a recognisable trace in space?

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Scott asked the Naked Scientists:
Dear Dr Chris and all concerned with your fabulous podcast, firstly thank you for the show which i feel is one of the best outright and probably THE best for a teen demographic.

My question concerns the idea that ion drive propulsion systems are likely to exhibit a signal that is distinguishable from background noise, emitting effectively a directed particle beam.

Given an observer was placed in orbit ,to avoid atmospheric interference , and that our outbound ion drives were pointing earthward and conveniently at the detector,would the signatures of our currently operating ion drives be visible ,assuming objects were not obscuring the signal's path?

Furthermore would these ion beacons allow us to detect the possibility that other (extra solar)civilizations had operated similar propulsion systems in the past and if so at what distances is this practical if at all?

thanks. scott

What do you think?


Offline RD

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I think the solar wind would erase any ion trail.