Penn State researchers lead team to investigate signal possibly sent by a nearby star
Was this a signal of intelligent life in another solar system?
Or was the radio signal picked up in April 2019 and reported in December by several publications, simply man-made interference, as everyone else has been found to be so far?
Penn State researchers are among the scientists examining the signal detected by a radio telescope pointed at Proxima Centauri, our solar system’s closest neighbor.
“It’s kind of a technological signal. The question is whether this is terrestrial technology or technology for that matter, ”Sofia Sheikh, a graduate student at Penn State who heads a team that studies the signal and tries to decipher its origin.
She is part of Breakthrough Listen, a $ 100 million effort funded by Yuri Milner, a billionaire Israeli-Russian investor, to find alien radio waves.
Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, invisible to the naked eye from Earth, and is part of the Alpha Centauri three-star system. It’s about 4.24 light years away from us.
The star orbits two known planets, one of which resides in the “habitable zone” that could endure Earth-like conditions that would allow life as we know it, according to Scientific American.
It’s exciting, but researchers are cautiously optimistic.
“If you see such a signal and it is not coming from the surface of the Earth, you know that you have detected alien technology,” Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University. “Unfortunately, humans have launched a lot of alien technology.”
The 982.02 MHz narrowband signal falls within a transmission range of our satellites and spacecraft, the reports say.
But Astronomy.com reports that the signal appeared for five 30-minute periods over several days, all while the telescope pointed directly at Proxima Centauri. When the telescope was turned away from the star, the signal disappeared.
Wright spoke to PennLive in 2019, shortly after the formation of the Center for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (PSETI), a global leader and research hub aimed at answering the big question.
And that big question – Are we alone in the universe?
This signal may or may not contain the response.
The signal was first detected in April 2019, recorded at Parkes Observatory in Australia, according to reports. It wasn’t until October 2020, however, that researchers sifted through the data and found the signal curious.
“This is the most exciting signal we’ve found in the Breakthrough Listen project, because we’ve never had a signal jump through so many of our filters before,” Sheikh told Scientific American.
It directs the subsequent analysis of the signal.
“The signal seems to only show up in our data when we look in the direction of Proxima Centauri, which is exciting,” Sheikh told The New York Times. “It’s a threshold that has never been crossed by any signal we’ve seen before, but there are a lot of caveats.”
While hopeful, the researchers still point out that the possibility that it is something other than earth interference is low.
“Our experience exists in a sea of interfering signals,” Andrew Siemion of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and researcher for Breakthrough Listen told The New York Times. “My instinct in the end is that it will be anthropogenic.”
But the signal cannot yet be explained, he added.
Scientists began listening to the stars in 1959, looking for a radio signal that may have been sent to us by a civilization in a distant solar system.
To date, no conclusive evidence has been found, and most of the potential signals have been ruled out as interference from Earth. But in all these decades, only a tiny fraction of the universe has been excavated. It’s like trying to scour the ocean for fish, but only looking at enough water to fill a tub, Wright told PennLive in 2019.
The phrase “it’s never aliens” is a phrase Wright doesn’t like to hear.
“I hate that line, because if you say that, then why even look?” Wright told Scientific American. “What we mean by that is that there never were any extraterrestrials before. “