Breakthrough Listen, a project to search for intelligent extraterrestrial communications in the Universe, has performed the most comprehensive survey yet of radio emissions from the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy and the region surrounding its supermassive black hole. In addition, the astronomers looked for radio emissions coming from 20 nearby stars that “are aligned with the plane of Earth’s Orbit” such as that an advanced alien civilization around those stars could observe our planet pass in front of the sun.
A massive undertake
The new survey has resulted in 2 petabytes of data, some of which may still hide evidence of advanced alien civilizations. Astronomers are now inviting the public to search the data they’ve obtained for signals of intelligent alien civilizations.
What astronomers have found so far suggests that if there are aliens in living in star systems not far from ours, then they are keeping quiet.
Breakthrough Listen’s principal investigator Andrew Siemion of the University of California, Berkeley, announced the release of nearly 2 petabytes of data, the second data dump from the four-year-old search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). A petabyte of radio and optical telescope data was released in June of 2019, the largest release of SETI data in the history of the field, reports the University of Berkeley.
As explained in a recent statement, the recently published batch of data comes from a survey of the radio spectrum between 1 and 12 gigahertz (GHz).
Researchers have revealed that half of the data comes via the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, which, due to its location in the Southern Hemisphere, is ideally situated and able to scan the entire galactic disk and galactic center.
The remainder of the data was collected by the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. This observatory is regarded as the world’s largest steerable radio dish, and an optical telescope called the Automated Planet Finder.
The batch of data gathered in 2019 is now just a small piece of a cosmic puzzle we are eager to solve.
“Since Breakthrough Listen’s initial data release last year, we have doubled what is available to the public,” said Breakthrough Listen’s lead system administrator, Matt Lebofsky.
“It is our hope that these data sets will reveal something new and interesting, be it other intelligent life in the universe or an as-yet-undiscovered natural astronomical phenomenon.”
The newly gathered data is a massive step in our understanding of not only the universe we inhabit but the origins of life and the possibilities of alien life arising in other parts of the cosmos.
“For the whole of human history, we had a limited amount of data to search for life beyond Earth. So, all we could do was speculate. Now, as we are getting a lot of data, we can do real science and, with making this data available to the general public, so can anyone who wants to know the answer to this deep question,” said Yuri Milner, the founder, and principal investor of Breakthrough Listen.
The current search for alien life will be further complemented as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the privately-funded SETI have come to an agreement to collaborate on new system to add SETI capabilities to various radio telescopes operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
“As the VLA conducts its usual scientific observations, this new system will allow for additional and important use for the data we’re already collecting,” explained NRAO Director Tony Beasley.
“Determining whether we are alone in the universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science, and NRAO telescopes can play a major role in answering it.”
A small subset of data focuses on twenty stars located in our solar system’s vicinity.
Conducted by the Green Bank Telescope, astronomer surveyed the stars in the radio frequency range between 4 and 8 gigahertz, the so-called C-band.
The data gathered was analyzed by astronomers who specifically looked for bright emissions at a single radio wavelength or a narrow band around a single wavelength.
In a similar way how we discover distant exoplanets, aliens may be trying to do the same thing while exploring the cosmos.
“This region has been talked about before, but there has never been a targeted search of that region of the sky,” explained Sofia Sheikh, from Pennsylvania State University.
Although Sheikh and her colleagues found no traces–technosignatures–from alien civilizations, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any. For all we know, some of the closest stars to Earth may have alien beings that are simply not developed enough to make their presence known in the cosmos.
“We didn’t find any aliens, but we are setting very rigorous limits on the presence of a technologically capable species, with data for the first time in the part of the radio spectrum between 4 and 8 gigahertz,” Siemion explained.
“These results put another rung on the ladder for the next person who comes along and wants to improve on the experiment.”
In other words, as Jason Wright at Penn State put it; “estimated that if the world’s oceans represented every place and wavelength we could search for intelligent signals, we have, to date, explored only a hot tub’s worth of it.”
In addition to the observations of stars and the galactic center, astronomers searched interstellar comet 2l/Borisov for traces of alien technosignatures, but the search didn’t find anything emitting from the object.