After years of listening to the cosmos, scientists have failed to pick up any sign of alien civilizations. So, the experts have dumped online a petabyte of signals picked up from the Breakthrough Listen project so nerds like you and me can rifle through the readings and have a crack at finding E.T.
A staggering $100m (~£79,6m) went into funding Breakthrough Listen, a project launched in 2016 to detect extraterrestrial communications whizzing across space. It was hoped the astro-geeks would find some confirmation that there are other forms of intelligent life out there.
Three years in, and the eggheads haven’t quite found what they’re looking for, but they have amassed a petabyte of radio and optical data taken from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA, and the Parkes Telescope in Australia.
They've now shared that data online alongside two research papers and code in the hope that the public may be able to use it all and find something useful. “We scoured thousands of hours of observations of nearby stars, across billions of frequency channels,” said Danny Price, a research fellow working on the Breakthrough Listen project at the University of California, Berkeley, on Tuesday.
“We found no evidence of artificial signals from beyond Earth, but this doesn't mean there isn't intelligent life out there: we may just not have looked in the right place yet, or peered deep enough to detect faint signals.”
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The papers describe the observations of 1,327 nearby stars, fast radio bursts, and pulsar searches. It’s the “most comprehensive and sensitive radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) in history,” the team boasted.
Boffins are searching for strange, powerful radio signals that can’t be easily explained. They reject signals emitted by other radio telescopes, or if the source appears to move in the sky. Some of the code released helps filter noise from the raw data, and performs Doppler drift searches, a technique that determines if a signal comes from a fixed point in space.
“We invite the public to read the two papers accompanying the data release and the scientific analysis, and for those with technical skills, to download some of the datasets, to explore them, and to perform their own analyses,” the researchers said.
Although there isn’t much to see here, the Breakthrough Listen project is soldiering on. It hopes to study one million nearby stars, 100 nearby galaxies, and the entire galactic plane in radio and optical wavelengths. ®