(ORDO NEWS) — Breakthrough Listen, a private project to search for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, has begun work on the MeerKAT array of radio telescopes in South Africa.
Over the next two years, the team will search more than a million nearby stars, increasing the number of observed targets by a factor of 1,000.
“I am thrilled to be able to search for technosignatures with one of the most sensitive telescopes in the world,” says Breakthrough Listen of Breakthrough Listen. MeerKAT Project Scientist Dr. Cherry Ng.
“MeerKAT will give us the ability to detect a transmitter similar to Earth‘s brightest radio beacons at a distance of 250 light-years.”
> There are about 260,000 stars in this range. For more distant stars, the search becomes more difficult, but there is still a chance of finding signals from distant sources.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is in the unenviable position of rarely receiving public research funding. NASA has largely avoided SETI research since a planned high-resolution microwave survey was canceled in 1993.
SETI’s association (sometimes unfairly) with conspiracy theories sometimes overshadows its ability to answer one of the biggest questions humanity can ask. : are we alone in the universe?
But private funding from billionaires Julia and Yuri Milner has given SETI a boost in recent years.
Breakthrough Listen operates using the Green Bank Telescope in the US and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, among others. MeerKAT is the latest addition.
The MeerKAT array of 64 dishes can see an area of the sky 50 times the size of the Green Bank Telescope, making it an exceptional tool for exploring wide swaths of the nearby galactic neighborhood.
Importantly, MeerKAT’s Breakthrough Listen software allows them to operate in “commensal mode,” meaning they can use the telescope and search for techno signatures without interfering with other astronomers’ observations.
“Such a large field of view usually contains many stars of interest to technosignatures,” says Breakthrough Listen Principal Investigator Dr. Andrew Simion.
“Our new supercomputer allows us to combine signals from 64 stars. dishes to obtain high-resolution scans of these targets with superior sensitivity, all without compromising the research of other astronomers who use the array.”
One of the first targets that Breakthrough Listen will watch with MeerKAT is Proxima. Centauri, a nearby star with two known rocky planets in the habitable zone.
Astronomers disagree on whether there are technological civilizations to be found.
One camp suggests that if they were there, we would have seen them by now. This is the premise of the Fermi Paradox, which suggests that life is probably ubiquitous throughout the universe, so it’s strange that we haven’t seen it yet.
The famous Drake equation, formulated in 1961, attempts to mathematically translate the Fermi paradox into specific probabilities of finding life elsewhere.
So far, there are no signs of aliens. Random oddities like “Wow! signal’ in 1977, could not be replicated in subsequent studies.
These oddities are, at best, unconvincing hints that there is more to it. On the other hand, they often turn out to be signals from somewhere to Earth, misunderstood as extraterrestrial in origin.
The idea behind Breakthrough Listen is that if we don’t search, we won’t get an answer. The powerful capabilities of MeerKAT will make this search more thorough. Only time will tell if they find it or not.
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