It has been almost 60 years now that scientists — a first a few intrepid souls and now many more — have been searching the skies for radio signals that just might be coming from other advanced, technological civilizations. There have been some intriguing anomalies that created great interest, but nothing has to date survived further study.
But two recent developments in the this Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) make clear that the lack of alien signals so far has not diminished interest in the field and in the science and technology behind it. Rather, SETI is alive and doing quite well.
A first sign is scientific and involves what are called “fast radio blasts” or FRBs — high energy pulses that are extremely short lived and, until recently, determined to be sporadic and random. But a paper last week from a Canadian team reported a series fast radio blast from a galaxy a 500 million light-years away that appeared to be repeating about every 16 days.
The authors put forward a number of astrophysical explanations for this most unusual pattern and shied away from any kind of SETI hypothesis. More on this later.
But the detection is the kind of radio signal anomaly that SETI scientists and enthusiasts are looking for. And now they will also have the opportunity to search a vast new trove of data provided by Breakthrough Listen, part of the privately-funded Breakthrough Initiatives.
At the close of a meeting of the American Association for the Advance of Science (AAAS) on Friday, the Breakthrough team announced the release nearly 2 petabytes (2 million gigabytes) of data, the second massive data dump from the four-year old Breakthrough Listen search for extraterrestrial intelligence
The data, most of it fresh from the telescope prior to detailed study by astronomers, comes from a survey of the radio spectrum between 1 and 12 gigahertz (GHz).… Read more