It’s a question that has puzzled us for millennia: are we alone in the universe? To find out, the University of California, Berkley and Breakthrough Initiatives, an organisation established to fund the search for alien life, will use radio telescopes to “listen” for signals of an alien civilisation in the Breakthrough Listen project.
The Green Bank Observatory in the US and Parkes Observatory in Australia will be the project’s primary “ears” for radio signals that could indicate life. Specifically, Breakthrough Listen will focus on Tabby’s star – more properly called KIC 8462852 – a curious object with a peculiar light pattern.
The Kepler space telescope, which analyses the light signatures of stars to determine if it has orbiting planets, found Tabby’s star significantly dimmed several times – up to 22% at a time – over the past five or so years.
Some people believe that this could be explained by an alien superstructure known as a Dyson structure, an orbiting array of solar collectors that could be used to power an advanced civilisation.
New equipment added to the observatories will allow astronomers to analyse hundreds of millions of radio wavelengths simultaneously. It is hoped that one of these channels will transmit a strong signal, and a possible indicator of life.
Jake Port contributes to the Cosmos explainer series.
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