Breakthrough Listen launches new campaign to speed up search for intelligent life

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Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million dollar project designed to search the cosmos for intelligent life, has begun a new campaign to achieve this goal faster than ever before. Called “The Parkes Campaign”, the organization will begin utilizing several new radio telescopes located in New South Wales, Australia, allowing them to scan the Milky Way Galaxy more comprehensively. These telescopes will allow researchers to survey wider swaths of area in the galaxy, increasing our chances of finding signals potentially originating from intelligent life.

space The Parkes Telescope can be operated using a new “multibeam” receiver which will allow for the use of 13 beams to search much larger pieces of the sky. Parkes Project scientist Danny Price of the University of California, Berkeley, said “With these new capabilities we are scanning our galaxy in unprecedented detail. By trawling through these huge data sets for signatures of technological civilizations, we hope to uncover evidence that our planet, among the hundreds of billions in our galaxy, is not the only place where intelligent life has arisen.”

The search will be conducted at speeds upwards of 130 gigabits per second, something that you could only wish your home Wi-Fi network could achieve. In addition to the speed of this search, the multi-beam receiver will improve accuracy, allowing for scientists to filter out interference signals that can come from sources like airplanes, cell phones, and satellites.

The 60-day campaign will spend a total of 1,500 hours listening to the cosmos. Once the search is complete, scientists will begin the process of sifting through the data, analyzing its structure to determine the nature of the captured signals. One particular phenomenon that scientists are trying to research is that of ‘fast radio bursts (FRBs)’. These quick and vibrant radio pulses are a mystery to scientists, and are defined as unusual and originate from far-off origins. While there is no evidence of them coming from an alien-source, their peculiar properties are something that scientists aim to better understand.

This initiative was first launched by billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner and the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. By scanning what is called the Milky Way’s “galactic plane”, researchers hope to find signs of technologically capable of life far beyond the reaches of Earth. Using radio surveys, they hope to be able to distinguish between human-made signals and “signals of interest”.

In addition to signal scanning, over the next decade, the project aims to search over 1 million stars closest to the sun, and the 100 galaxies closest to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Another exciting program within this Project Listen is Breakthrough Starshot, which aims to launch thousands of tiny nanoprobes capable of traveling at incredibly fast speeds into other star systems to study other celestial bodies up close.

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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