Alien Hunters Discovered A Mysterious Signal From Proxima Centauri

Alien Hunters Discovered A Mysterious Signal From Proxima Centauri

Sofia Sheikh from Penn State University likens this signal to the "Wow" signal of 1977, which many believe to be of extraterrestrial origin.

Last year, according to The Guardian, reported that a mysterious signal was detected to be coming from the closest star system to our own, Proxima Centauri. This is too dim to see from the Earth without the aid of instruments, but it remains a cosmic marvel at a mere 4.2 light-years away. The signal that was detected was found to come from the direction of the star and is yet to be dismissed as an Earth-based interference. Therefore, it raises questions that it could be a "technosignature," meaning that this can be seen as a "transmission from some form of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI)," Scientific American reported. 



While this sounds exciting, scientists behind this discovery, are erring on the side of caution and state that there is a lot of work to be done. "It has some particular properties that caused it to pass many of our checks, and we cannot yet explain it," says Andrew Siemion from the University of California, Berkeley. Interestingly, this signal comes from a narrow band of the radio spectrum: 982 megahertz specifically. Curiously enough, this is a region that usually doesn't accompany transmissions from human-made satellites and spacecraft. "We don’t know of any natural way to compress electromagnetic energy into a single bin in frequency," Siemion says. He added, "Certain as-yet-unknown exotic quirk of plasma physics could be a natural explanation for the tantalizingly concentrated radio waves. But for the moment, the only source that we know of is technological,"



This discovery was made possible by a $100 million project called Breakthrough Listen led by Siemion and funded by tech billionaire Yuri Milner and the support of Milner's Breakthrough Initiatives. Started in 2015, this multi-year endeavor announcement with a bang with space-science heavyweights in attendance including Stephen Hawking and others. The aim of this project was to "buy observing time on radio telescopes around the world to search the skies for evidence of technological civilizations." This is more commonly known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). However, till now there has been no conclusive evidence found in spite of SETI activity for half a century. Any potential signals have always been attributed to "originating from satellites orbiting Earth or other human-caused interference." However, this Proxima Centauri signal has been in the works since April 2019.




A team had been using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia to study Proxima Centauri for signs of flares coming from the red dwarf star, partly to understand how such flares might affect Proxima’s planets. There are two worlds in this system namely Proxima b and Proxima c. As part of their stellar-flare study, they observed this star for 26 hours. As is routine, they also looked for remaining data to look for potential SETI signals. An intern on this particular task "stumbled upon the curious narrowband emission, needle-sharp at 982.002 megahertz, hidden in plain view in the Proxima Centauri observations." Sofia Sheikh from Penn State University, said, "It’s the most exciting signal that we’ve found in the Breakthrough Listen project, because we haven’t had a signal jump through this many of our filters before." She led the analysis of the signal and is set to publish a paper on this in 2021. "In five of the 30-minute observations over about three hours we see this thing come back," she added. This appears to indicate that this signal did emerge "from Proxima Centauri—or some other deep-space source in that part of the sky—before making its way to Earth."




"The chances against this being an artificial signal from Proxima Centauri seem staggering," said Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist, and professor of science communication at the University of Westminster. "We’ve been looking for alien life for so long now and the idea that it could turn out to be on our front doorstep, in the very next star system, is piling improbabilities upon improbabilities. If there is intelligent life there, it would almost certainly have spread much more widely across the galaxy. The chances of the only two civilizations in the entire galaxy happening to be neighbors, among 400bn stars, absolutely stretch the bounds of rationality."

Sheikh likens this discovery to the so-called "Wow! signal" detected in 1977, which some consider it to of extraterrestrial origin. She said, "I think it’s on par with the Wow! signal."  Shami Chatterjee, a radio astronomer from Cornell University in New York, noted, "If it’s an ETI it must eventually be replicable because it’s unlikely it would be a one-off. If an independent team at an independent observatory can recover the same signal, then hell yes. I would bet money that they won’t, but I would love to be wrong."


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