Scientists hunting for aliens investigate radio beam ‘from nearby star’

Astronomers searching for alien life are investigating a strange radio wave which appears to have come from the direction of the closest star to our sun in space.

The narrow beam of radio signal originating in the area of Proxima Centauri was picked up during 30 hours of observation by the Parkes telescope in Australia in April and May of last year.

Analysis of the emission has been underway ever since, but scientist are yet to find an explanation for the beam originating from earth.

It is common for astronomers on the $100million (£70m) Breakthrough Listen project to spot strange blasts of radio waves with either the Parkes telescope of the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

But up until now, all have been put down as human-made interference or natural sources.

The Guardian reports that this latest "signal" likely has a more boring explanation than aliens, but the direction of the narrow beam, around 980MHz, and an apparent shift in its consistency with the movement of a planet, have excited scientists.

"It is the first serious candidate since the 'Wow! signal,'" an astronomer told the paper, referring to a short-lived narrowband radio signal picked up during the search for extraterrestrial intelligence by the Big Ear Radio Observatory in Ohio in 1977.

The unusual signal, so-called because astronomer Jerry Ehman wrote "Wow!" next to the data, sparked huge excitement, although he himself warned about drawing "vast conclusions from half-vast data".

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Launched in 2015 by Silicon Valley-based science and technology investor Yuri Milner, the Breakthrough Listen project tracks a million stars closest to Earth in the hope of detecting stray or intentional alien broadcasts.

The 10-year project was announced at the Royal Society in London where the late Stephen Hawking called the work "critically important".

Speaking just three years before his death, the astrophysics genius said: "Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know.

"We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark."

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Proxima Centauri has become an object of fascination to astronomers.

At least two planets are known to orbit it, one a gas giant and the other a rocky world about 17% bigger than Earth.

Known as Proxima b, this planet takes 11 days to orbit the star and lies in the so-called "habitable zone" where the temperature allows water to flow and pool.

But despite that hope, the planet may well be completely uninhabitable.

Pete Worden, the former director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California and executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said it was important to wait and see what the scientists concluded.

"The Breakthrough Listen team has detected several unusual signals and is carefully investigating," he said.

"These signals are likely interference that we cannot yet fully explain. Further analysis is currently being undertaken."

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