Breakthrough Listen, a privately funded project looking for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, has begun work on the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa.
Over the next two years, the team will search for close to a million stars, increasing the number of observed targets by 1000.
“I’m very excited to be able to explore the latest technology using the world’s largest space telescope,” says Dr.
“MeerKAT will give us the ability to detect the brightest radio transmitter on Earth up to 250 light-years away.”
There are about 260,000 stars within this line. For distant stars, the search is more difficult, but there is still a chance to detect signals from afar.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is an undisputed recipient of government research funding. NASA has largely avoided SETI research since the High Resolution Microwave Survey was canceled in 1993.
SETI’s (sometimes unfair) association with conspiracy theories sometimes overshadows its ability to answer one of the biggest questions humanity can ask: are we alone in the Universe?
But private funding from billionaires Julia and Yuri Milner has boosted SETI in recent years.
Breakthrough Listen works using the Green Bank telescope in the USA and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, among others. MeerKAT is the latest addition.
MeerKAT has 64 dishes that can see an area of the sky 50 times larger than the Green Bank telescope, making it a unique instrument for observing nearby galactic regions.
Most importantly, the Breakthrough Listen program on MeerKAT allows them to operate in ‘commensal mode,’ meaning that they return to the telescope and can search for technologies without interfering with other astronomers’ time.
Dr. Andrew Siemion, lead researcher at Breakthrough Listen, said:
“Our new computer allows us to combine the signals from 64 plates to get the highest quality scans of the target, all without affecting the research of other astronomers using the array.”
One of the first targets that Breakthrough Listen will observe with MeerKAT is Proxima Centauri, a nearby star with two known rocky planets in the habitable zone.
Astronomers have competing ideas about whether there is a technological breakthrough out there for them to discover.
One camp says that if they were out there, we would have seen them before. That’s the idea of the Fermi Paradox, which suggests that life is common elsewhere in the Universe, so it’s surprising that we haven’t seen it yet.
The famous Drake equation, formulated in 1961, attempts to break down Fermi’s amazing math into the possibility of finding life elsewhere.
So far, there are no signs of ET. Unusual sometimes, like ‘Oh! symbol’ in 1977, has failed to be repeated in subsequent studies. These oddities, in fact, indicate that something is up. Alternatively, they are often symbolic from anywhere else on Earth, not understood as foreign sources.
The point of Breakthrough Listen is that if we don’t look, we won’t find the answer. MeerKAT’s powerful capabilities will make the search more complete. Only time will tell what they get, or don’t get.
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the first article.