If we can’t find intelligent life in our own solar system, it would be nice to find it in one of the nearby systems. Ideally, that would be Proxima Centauri, the small red dwarf star located 4.2465 light-years away from the Sun with two confirmed exoplanets, of which one — Proxima Centauri b – is in the star’s so-called habitable zone. Its suitability for life has been in question recently, but that discussion may be mute with news from the Breakthrough Listen project that a narrow beam of 980 MHz radio waves was detected coming from Proxima Centauri in April and May 2019 by the Parkes telescope in Australia. Even more interesting, the signal shifted while under observation. Is it time for an “It’s aliens!” yell?
“It is the first serious candidate for an alien communication since the ‘Wow! Signal.’”
That quote from an unnamed scientist at the Breakthrough Listen project was given to The Guardian which broke the big story. Of course, there’s no proof over 40 years after it was detected that the Wow! signal is from intelligent life. Scientific American picked up the ball and talked to other researchers, who pointed out that signal’s bandwidth is in a range humans lack the technology to transmit in.
“We don’t know of any natural way to compress electromagnetic energy into a single bin in frequency (like this one).”
Andrew Siemion from the University of California, Berkeley, theorizes it’s a technological signal generated by something not sent by humans or a human-created satellite or spacecraft. If it’s coming from Proxima Centauri, then Proxima Centauri b is the likely source … except a recent study concluded that its habitable zone is actually much closer to it than our Sun’s – probably closer than Mercury is to the Sun. That puts Proxima Centauri b in danger of deadly solar radiation on the one side of the planet that always faces its star. That doesn’t sound good.
“If it’s an ETI it must eventually be replicable, because it’s unlikely it would be a one-off,” says “If an independent team at an independent observatory can recover the same signal, then hell yes. I would bet money that they won’t, but I would love to be wrong.”
Shami Chatterjee, a radio astronomer from New York’s Cornell University, told Scientific American the key for him would be another signal in the same bandwidth from the same location. In the meantime, Sofia Sheikh, a researcher from Penn State University who led the analysis of the signal and is lead author on the paper detailing it, says the project has given it a name — Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1 (BLC1) – and has not lost her enthusiasm.
“It’s the most exciting signal that we’ve found in the Breakthrough Listen project, because we haven’t had a signal jump through this many of our filters before.”
When the process of elimination eliminates all of the processes, is it time for the “It’s aliens!” yell?
Keep your megaphone handy.