In the movie “Contact” (one of my favorites), there is a powerful scene in which the main character Ellie Arroway sits among a series of telescopes and hears the first alien signal – an ominous pulse – received from humanity. Race back to the control center where the string is directed towards the target and then back to check the signal. Contact has been established. Soon after, there is a message in the signal and we have confirmed the existence of extraterrestrial life!
Ellie Arroway was inspired by the real pillar of the SETI community, Dr. Jill Tarter. I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Tarter last year and ask for that scene. She laughed, saying, “There’s not a lot of sitting around with headphones on. It’s not really that simple. “When it comes to analyzing signals from stars for extraterrestrial life, distinguishing a potential extraterrestrial message from the noise of our planet is quite complex.
We watch excitingly as the analysis unfolds right now as a signal that appears to come from our nearest neighbor star, Proxime Centauri, recently discovered by the Breakthrough Listen project
Founded in 2015, Breakthrough Listen’s mission is to observe the million nearest stars and 100 closest galaxies to Earth for “techno-signs” – signs of extraterrestrial technology such as radio signals. The program uses the Parkes Observatory in Australia, 380 km from Sydney, and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, United States – both the northern and southern hemispheres to observe the entire sky.
So far, all breakthrough discoveries can be attributed to a cosmic phenomenon or discoveries of our own technology such as signals bounced off satellites. But one signal seems beyond a terrestrial or natural explanation (for now) and is considered a potential candidate for a contact called “Breakthrough Listen -1” or “BLC-1”.
The signal was originally recorded between April and May 2019 by the Parkes Observatory. (Coincidentally, in the fictional Star Trek Universe, the first contact with aliens occurs on April 5). The data was recently reviewed by undergraduate student Shane Smith who discovered a distinctly narrow frequency of 982.002 MHz coming from Proxime Centauri, our nearest neighboring star system, at 4.2 light-years. The data also showed that just as Ellie Arroway experiences in Contact, when the observatory was “nodded” – moved from the target, and then back – the signal returned. Is it an alien signal?
I invited Jason Wright, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, to comment on the story. Jason is also the director of the Penn State Alien Intelligence Center.
“This is not a natural phenomenon – I have not seen the data, but if it has passed the BL tests, it is too narrow to be natural. This is definitely caused by technology. However, Jason added: “But it’s almost over certainly ours!! ”(Emphasis added)
So, most likely not aliens.
Even Pete Worden, CEO of Breakthrough Initiatives, reiterated that the signal is unlikely to yield a positive result under further scrutiny. But that possibility is not yet ruled out. Under the direction of UC Berkley graduate student Sofia Sheikh, the BLC-1 research is still ongoing. The reason the public knows about the story before the published scientific results is that an anonymous source published the story for the Guardian.
So, although they are probably not aliens, what is interesting about the signal that it arouses scientific curiosity? The apparent origin of the signal, the Proxima Centauri star system, has two exoplanets: Proxima b discovered in 2016 by Guillem Anglada-Escudé and their research team and planetary candidate Proxima ca discovered in 2019. Proxima b is a rocky world orbiting its star zone. liquid water. It is thought that a planet could support life, but we don’t really know if the signal from Proxime Centauri originates from one of the two planets of the system.
The frequency of the signal shifts to suggest that it is moving relative to Earth – it is not physically ON Earth – but may still be a satellite in orbit. Although the signal frequency, 982.002MHz, is unusual for our radio-broadcasting technologies, it is not known that the area of the sky in which Proxima is located has a large amount of satellite traffic. In the end, the signal was of a very narrow frequency, a marked jump to 982.002MHz which, as Jason Wright pointed out, was probably of technological origin.
Rejecting little green people
What about the case against foreign origin? While Proxima b resides in the habitable zone of its star, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf “flash”. Red dwarfs are prone to massive outbursts of plasma and radiation. Because it is a colder star, the habitable zone is quite close to the star itself. Year Proxima b is only 11 Earth days long. Then the planet is likely to be subjected to torches that could sterilize life, prevent life from occurring, or even take away the planet’s atmosphere. In fact, the Parkes Observatory was not even looking for techno-labels when BLC-1 was discovered. The observatory was studying Proxima’s torchlight procession.
While the signal is shifted by frequency, indicating that it is moving relative to the Earth, the shift is in the wrong direction. Like the sound of a car approaching, the pitch increases, not decreases, as we would expect from a Proxima. And while the signal is on a very narrow part of the spectrum, there may be a possibility that it is somehow created by natural phenomena that we simply do not yet know about. Before we found out what pulsars were – spinning the cores of dead stars – we labeled one of their first discovered pulsating radio shows as LGM1 or “Little Green Men 1” The name was fun even at the time.
BLC-1 does not transmit data or messages. It is not a modulated radio signal with voice or information. In Contact, the film, the alien signal contained engineering specifications on how to build a spaceship. This signal doesn’t even say “Hi.” Maybe the signal itself is a message? But then we start stepping into the territory of psychology – trying to predict what message the aliens would send.
As Jason Wright says, “I can’t even tell you why people would make this type of signal without modulation. But yes, there are a lot of ideas about why we could get a signal like this. Choosing among them before we saw the signal is definitely an exercise in speculative xenopsychology. ”
And in the end, the odds are simply against a positive result. Our galaxy is huge. The Milky Way is about 200,000 light-years away and is filled with at least 100 billion stars. The chances that the NEAREST of all these stars to ours is also the host of a living technological civilization are just … well … astronomical.
Signal research continues. Jason Wright says the next steps will include “seeing (if) the signal repeats. The team can then apply other techniques, such as using multiple dishes or receivers at the same time, to turn off (Radio Frequency Interference). “He adds that this is one of the reasons why some astronomers are so excited about the possibility of placing telescopes on the far side of the moon, where there are almost no radio frequencies.” – a step towards a future SETI. send the probe to Proxima Centauri itself.
In the meantime, we are probably not on the verge of establishing contact. In both cases, the whole story is a fascinating study of how and why science works. The answer to the question of whether we are alone in space is similar to the great answer “THE” – one that has a deep meaning for individuals and our civilization. We are all looking for connection, belonging. We want to connect with the community, society, the universe around us. As individuals we want to ask if we are alone. Scale that question from individuals to the size of civilization, you get SETI. Here the impartiality of the scientific method is so important. Our desire for an answer, especially with something as fundamentally human as belonging, must be mitigated by the action required for an accurate result. That is why the scientific community is trying to leak in front of the leaked story until solid data and analysis are published.
When I asked Dr. during last year’s interview. Why Jill Tarter is doing this job, she said, “We’d find out it’s possible to have a long future.” For her, the answer was hope for the possibility of her own survival. If two technological civilizations coexist in time and space, it means that the chances of us doing that from our technological childhood are pretty good – the neighbor said, “Hey. Earth. You have this. We did it. You can too. “For Jason Wright, it’s the excitement of the discovery.” People want to know what’s out there! Knowing our place in space is important to a lot of people and they expect astronomers to work on it. I agree with them! “
As for me, I am looking forward to the published results. Even without a definitive answer, I think we can all still look up at night and know we are part of a larger universe. Although I will allow others. Jill Tarter to better articulate that opinion below:
Leading image: Parkes radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. The telescope appears to have received a technological signal from our neighboring star system, Proxime Centauri, in April and May 2019. But this discovery has yet to be verified. Image by Daniel John Reardon / Wikimedia Commons.
More for research:
Scientists searching for aliens are exploring radio air “from a nearby star” Universe The Guardian
DOG CENTER (psu.edu)
Alien hunters discover mysterious radio signal from Proxime Centauri (nationalgeographic.com)
Alien hunters discover signal of Proxime Centauri, the nearest star, but probably of human origin (syfy.com)
Alien hunters discover the mysterious signal Proxime Centauri – Scientific American
Did Proxima Centauri just call to say hello? Not really! |. | SETI Institute
The star closest to the sun, Proxima Centauri, has a planet in its habitable zone. Life could be there right now – the Universe today