A Very Interesting Radio Signal Was Just Detected Coming from Proxima Centauri
by Matthew Cimone | Universe Today
There’s a powerful scene in the movie “Contact” (one of my favs) where lead character Ellie Arroway is sitting among an array of telescopes and hears the first alien signal – an ominous pulse – received by humanity. She races back to the control center where the array is pointed off target and then back to verify the signal. Contact is made. Shortly after, a message is found in the signal and we’ve confirmed the existence of alien life!
Ellie Arroway was inspired by a real-life pillar of the SETI community, Dr. Jill Tarter. I had the privilege of interviewing Jill Tarter last year and asked about 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 the stars for alien life, distinguishing a potential alien message from the noise of our own planet is quite complicated.
Excitingly, we’re watching that analysis play out right now as a signal which appears to originate from our closest neighbor star, Proxima Centauri, was recently detected by the Breakthrough Listen Project.
A Proximal Candidate
Founded in 2015, Breakthrough Listen is new to the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) community. SETI itself isn’t just one initiative but rather a field of research made up of different projects, institutions, methods, technologies, and funding sources in the search for alien life. Breakthrough Listen’s specific mission is to observe one million of the closest stars and the 100 closest galaxies to Earth for “technosignatures” – signs of alien technology like radio signals. The program uses the Parkes Observatory in Australia 380km outside of Sydney, and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, United States – both North and South Hemispheres to observe the whole sky.
Until now, all detections by Breakthrough can be attributed to cosmic phenomenon or detections of our own technology like signals bouncing off satellites. But one signal seems beyond terrestrial or natural explanation (for now) and is considered a potential contact candidate named “Breakthrough Listen -1” or “BLC-1”.
The signal was originally recorded between April – May of 2019 by the Parkes Observatory. (Coincidentally, in the fictional Star Trek Universe, first contact with aliens happens April 5th). The data was more recently revisited by undergraduate student Shane Smith who discovered a distinct narrow frequency of 982.002Mhz coming from Proxima Centauri, our closest 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 off target and then back – the signal returned. Is the signal from aliens?