It is still early to launch the bells to the flight, but a team of astronomers of the Breakthrough Listen project, of which the late Stephen Hawking was part, has just discovered what could be the best candidate so far for an alien signal. Specifically, researchers have found an “intriguing radio signal” coming from Alpha Centauri, the closest solar system, just 4.2 light-years from the Sun.
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, scientists are still preparing the study of their finding, so their data is not yet public, but the signal consists of a narrow beam of radio waves of 980 MHz and was detected in April 2019 by the Parkes telescope in Australia, part of the Breakthrough Listen project to search for signs of alien technology beyond the borders of our Solar System. According to the researchers, the mysterious 980 MHz signals only appeared once and did not repeat themselves. That frequency, however, is important because generally no satellite or land craft emits at that wavelength.
Even more intriguing, the signal changed slightly just as it was being observed, and the way it did so suggests that it could be a change caused by the movement of a planet. As is known, our neighboring star system is home to at least two planets and one of them, Proxima b, is a rocky world, barely 17% larger than Earth and about which it is speculated if it is capable of having water on its surface. The duration of the signal was approximately three hours and, as has been said, it was concentrated in a very narrow range of wavelengths, one not normally used by our satellites and spacecraft. It is the first signal to pass the strict Breakthrough Listen to controls, specifically designed to eliminate possible interference from terrestrial signals. That’s why researchers have named it Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1, or BLC1.
Despite this, any alleged discovery of aliens should always be viewed with caution and skepticism, especially if it is a signal that resembles a possible “technological signature”, that is, one emitted by alien technology. For this reason, the team of researchers wanted to be extremely cautious. And in that regard, Pete Worden, president of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation wrote on Twitter that, for now, “nobody says it is a technology firm. The team has detected several unusual signals and is carefully investigating them. And the strongest and most persistent. they’re all from Proxima Centauri. At the moment, the only thing that is known is what one of the scientists told The Guardian, the data analysis is not yet complete, so no one can be sure today what exactly that strange radio beam is the only clear thing is that it is “strange and peculiar”.
In its article, the British newspaper cites an anonymous source who claims to have access to the data and who affirms that “it is the first serious candidate to be an alien communication since the famous” Wow! “Signal, captured in 1977 and which also resembled a techno signature. On the other hand, as Sofia Sheik, of Penn State University, who directed the analysis of the BLC1 signal, has assured the Scientific American magazine, “it is the most exciting signal that we have found in the Breakthrough Listen project because we had never had another one before it got past our many filters.
Be that as it may, in a few months, when the researchers finish their work and publish their definitive results, we will know that BLC1 is, or is not, just a ground interference. But even if it is reliably demonstrated that it is not a signal emitted by one of our ships, scientists will have to analyze many other possible explanations before concluding that it is, indeed, the first extraterrestrial signal captured by humanity. Do not forget that, if there is someone “up there”, we have no way of knowing what their communications technology might look like, it does not necessarily have to resemble ours. Nor do we yet know what and how many are the possible natural sources of radio waves in the Universe.