Alien-Hunting Project Will Listen To Millions Of Stars In The Next Two Months

The Parkes Telescope. TonyNg/Shutterstock

The Breakthrough Listen Initiative is finally going to start its more comprehensive set of observations and listen to millions of stars in both the disk and the bulge of the galaxy, with the hope of discovering signals belonging to an alien civilization.

The survey will take 60 days and will be conducted with the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. Breakthrough Listen just provided the facility with an important upgrade – the telescope is now multibeam. Before, it could only study a single place in the sky at a time. Now, it has 13 beams. This means the Parkes telescope can scan the cosmos more quickly.

"With these new capabilities, we are scanning our Galaxy in unprecedented detail," Danny Price, Parkes project scientist with the Breakthrough Listen project at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. "By trawling through these huge datasets 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 where intelligent life has arisen."

One of the upgrades is not on the instrument at all but is crucial for the survey. The new digital instrumentation will allow it to transmit information from the telescope at 130 gigabits per second, which is about a 1,000 times the bandwidth of a fast home Internet connection. And the speed is necessary, as the 1,500 hours of observations will produce about 100 petabytes worth of data, roughly the amount of data Facebook was storing in 2012.

The upgrade also delivers a quicker way to get rid of artificial signals that are human-made. Human-generated radio frequency interferences can come from a variety of sources, including satellites, airplanes, cell phones, and sometimes even microwave ovens. Now, the system can better reject these signals.

The new survey will also look at signals from beyond the Milky Way. There will be observations of 100 nearby galaxies, as well as hopefully more detections of the mysterious fast radio bursts coming from the very distant universe.

The Breakthrough Listen project is part of the Breakthrough Initiatives, a suite of scientific programs investigating life in the Universe.

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