The truth is out there, they say, but we haven't come close to finding it yet.
The Breakthrough Listen project has searched the closest 1,327 stars in our galaxy for hints of intelligent life and advanced civilizations. So far, it sounds mighty quiet out there. The project is yet to come across any signals that suggest our cosmic neighborhood is home to any advanced civilization other than our own. Still, the team is not losing hope.
“We scoured thousands of hours of observations of nearby stars, across billions of frequency channels. 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,” Dr Danny C Price, a radio astronomer who leads the Breakthrough Listen project, said in a statement.
The extensive data was gathered using two of the world's most powerful ground telescopes, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. They sifted through billions of radio channels, searching for unusual signs – or so-called "technosignatures" – that might have been produced by technology built by civilizations beyond Earth. Unfortunately, as anticipated, they only detected the "noisy fuzz" of radio signals pumped out from our own human technology, such as smartphones, televisions, and the like.
The ongoing project has recently published their data in two top astrophysics journals – available to read here on pre-print servers. While collecting information on the surrounding 160 light-years of Earth, the project has amassed an eye-watering 1 petabyte (or 1 million gigabytes) of data – the largest data set ever publically released in the history of searching for extraterrestrials.
“While we have been making smaller subsets of data public before in varying forms and contexts,” added Matt Lebofsky, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center’s lead system administrator, “we are excited and proud to offer this first cohesive collection along with an instruction manual, so everybody can dig in and help us search."
Founded in 2015, the Breakthrough Listen project was funded by Yuri Milner, Russia's answer to Peter Thiel, who founded the colossal Russian internet company "Mail.ru Group" and an investor in Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Whatsapp, and numerous other big names in tech. Stayed tuned because there's plenty more on its way.
Lebofsky added: "We’re just getting started – there’s much more to come!"