Feb 18, 2020 - Science

$100 million project to hunt for alien life releases trove of data

illustration of an alien in a beam of light
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A privately funded hunt for intelligent extraterrestrial life has turned up empty so far, but a newly released trove of data could aid in the search.

The big picture: The search for alien life has gone mainstream in recent years, with multiple scientific ventures looking for radio signals that could signify the presence of intelligent civilizations somewhere else out there.

What's happening: The $100 million Breakthrough Listen project released almost 2 petabytes of data last week, including a survey of radio signals from various parts of our galaxy.

  • The project also searched for "technosignatures" emitting from the interstellar comet 2I/Borisov that came through the solar system last year, but didn't find any.
  • The new data includes the results of a hunt for signs of life around 20 stars that could, in theory, detect our planet in the way that scientists on Earth see other worlds.
"Because I purposely looked at nearby targets, my search was sensitive enough to locate a transmitter on par with the strongest transmitters on Earth. We can infer that there is nothing as strong as our Arecibo telescope beaming a signal toward us."
— Sofia Sheikh, who conducted the analysis, said in a statement

The intrigue: Only about 20% of Breakthrough Listen's total data has been analyzed so far, so it's still possible some exciting new findings could come from the raw data as scientists continue to pore over it.

Go deeper: The search for life as we don't know it

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