General, Research, Technology

What is known about the signal from Proxima Centauri?

Considering that in the Milky Way alonethe number of stars according to various estimates varies from 200 to 400 billion; it would be somewhat naive to believe that you and I are the only intelligent civilization in the Galaxy. What in this case can we say about the Universe, which, as the great Russian poet Joseph Brodsky wrote, is “the end and the end”. Many prominent scientists of the past, despite the deafening cosmic silence, believed that we are not alone in the universe. In November 1974, an encrypted radio signal was sent from the now defunct Aresibo Observatory to a huge (about 150 light-years across) globular cluster of stars 25,000 light-years from Earth. Perhaps someone will receive it someday and even answer us. But what if intelligent extraterrestrial life is even closer to our planet? In early 2019, a team of astronomers using the Parks Telescope caught an unusual radio signal emanating from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.

Proxima-Centauri is the closest star system to Earth.

Mysterious radio signal

A team of astronomers is working hard on analysisan unusual radio signal detected in early 2019 by the Parks Telescope, a 64-meter radio telescope located in eastern Australia. The signal appears to have come from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, and its characteristics are more typical for artificial broadcasting than for a natural radio source. So can the received signal be a long-awaited message from our brothers in mind?

The signal's discoverers, researchers from the massive Breakthrough Listen project to search for extraterrestrial life, warn that although the signal has very specific qualitiesdistinguishing it from typical naturalradio emissions, it is most likely noise or interference caused by our own communication technology here on Earth, or even a natural phenomenon that has not been observed before.

Within the framework of the international project BreakthroughListen researchers are systematically looking for artificial radio signals coming from outside the solar system. The project was started in 2015 by the Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking. This initiative is the most advanced and comprehensive alien search program ever undertaken by humans to date.

Breakthrough Listen's launch announcement was made today on July 20, 2015 in London.

The radio signal that attracted the attention of the worldthe public thanks to screaming headlines in the media (for example, "Mysterious signal sent by aliens" or "Alien hunters have caught a mysterious signal coming from the nearest star system"), was discovered in April 2019. As British The Guardian found out, "a narrow beam of radio waves was recorded during 30 hours of observations with the Parks telescope in April and May 2019." Note that the signal arrived at 980 MHz and did not repeat itself... In addition, the material speaks of a certain "shift" of the signal, which resembles the shift created by the movement of the planet.

Dubbed BLC1, discoveredthe astronomers' signal was intriguing. However, when news of its discovery leaked to the press, the astronomers who discovered it quickly pointed out that although the transmission came from some technology, the technology probably belonged to us. In the weeks since the news broke, researchers have done a great job and they believe that although the signal is artificial, it is probably not the work of aliens.

“There is nothing in it to say that it isclearly some alien intelligence is trying to send us a message, "the words of a Pennsylvania State University graduate student who leads a group that studies the signal, quoted by The Atlantic. “There is no information in the signal. It's just one tone, which is very similar to what we produce on Earth. "

See also: NASA sent a map into space, according to which aliens can find their way to Earth

Proxima-Centauri system

And in one sense, this news differs fromsimilar findings in recent years. The fact is that Proxima Centauri itself is too weak to be seen with the naked eye, but it is the closest star to Earth. If we can ever get out of the solar system and head for another, we will probably fly directly to Proxima. Perhaps there is nothing there - not a microbial colony, not a community of highly evolved creatures. But when it comes to listening to space, Proxima Centauri could be a sensible target in an attempt to detect signs of something familiar and unusual.

Earth and Proxima Centauri b as seen by the artist.

Since its opening in 1915, Proximaappeared regularly in science fiction stories about interstellar arks and alien empires. In the 1960s, scientists were seriously puzzled by the search for life beyond Earth and Proxima Centauri was considered one of the first by researchers. When your search spans the observable universe, proximity certainly matters.

Interestingly, Proxima is not like our Sun,it is cooler and dimmer. But she has at least two planets. One of them, Proxima c, orbits further away from the star, like a miniature Neptune. Another, Proxima b, is closer - so close that a year lasts only 11 days. Proxima b is a rocky planet, roughly the same size as Earth, and lies within the star's habitable zone - an area where temperatures can allow water to flow across its surface.

We do not know what Proxima b looks like, but astronomers,students of BLC1 do not assume that the source of the signal originated there. Contrary to some sci-fi stories, Proxima b is unlikely to become a second home for us. It is known that stars like Proxima Centauri emit streams of radiationenough to rob a nearby planet of its atmosphere for many years.

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In this image, Proxima Centauri is circled in red.

Public enthusiasm for the BLC1,may have been premature, but if humanity ever catches a signal from an advanced alien civilization, it may come from somewhere nearby. It may seem presumptuous to suggest that out of the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, we could detect intelligent life so close to Earth.

Yes, it's pretty presumptuous, but not impossible.In the end, recently, Oxford University astronomer Avi Loeb suggested that the mysterious asteroid Oumuamua, which invaded our solar system in 2017, could very well turn out to be both an alien ship and an alien reconnaissance probe. Although researchers at Breakthrough Listen warn that upon further analysis, the unusual signal is likely to be just radio interference from human technology - which has happened before - no definitive conclusions have yet been drawn. So everything is possible.