Dec 22, 2020 - Science

Scientists are investigating new radio signal, but it's likely not aliens

Proxima Centauri seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA
Proxima Centauri seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA

Scientists with the alien-searching Breakthrough Listen project are investigating a signal that may have come from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, according to a report from The Guardian.

Why it matters: If confirmed as a true sign of life, it would be wildly exciting. However, in all likelihood, the radio signal — found in 2019 — has a much more mundane origin story.

What's happening: According to The Guardian, scientists with Breakthrough picked up a "narrow beam of radio waves" during observations with the Australian Parkes telescope in May and April of 2019.

  • These narrow beams are of particular interest because they look like the kinds of radio waves humans send out into the universe, but that also makes it harder to parse whether a signal like this is alien or human in origin.
  • The scientists behind the discovery haven't been able to find an obvious explanation for the signal and are now performing follow-up observations to try to piece it together.
  • "The most obvious thing for them to do is to go back and use either Parkes or another observatory with similar sensitivity and just look again," the SETI Institute's Seth Shostak, who isn't involved with the new research, told me.

What to watch: It's still possible this signal is actually being emitted by some human cause that has yet to be found.

  • Or, the signal might even be coming from some other cosmic source with properties that have yet to be pinned down.
  • What's next: These possibilities will require follow-up observations to give scientists a good sense of what actually produced the signal in the first place.

Be smart: The scientists have yet to publish their full findings, and it will still take a lot of analysis and confirmation to know whether or not the signal is truly alien in nature.Go deeper: Alien hunters discover mysterious signal from Proxima Centauri (Scientific American)

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