Nanotechnology

The search for an alien signal in the heart of the Milky Way takes off

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May 30, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Akshay Suresh, a graduate student at Cornell University, spearheaded an extraordinary scientific endeavor — a groundbreaking mission to uncover periodic signals emanating from the Milky Way’s core called the Breakthrough Hearing Investigation for Periodic Spectral Signals (BLIPSS). Such a repeating pattern could be the key to unlocking the mysteries of extraterrestrial intelligence in our galaxy. Suresh and his co-authors detail the project’s results so far in a paper accepted for publication at Astronomy Journal (“4–8 GHz Galactic Center Search for Periodic Technology Signatures”).

BLIPSS is a collaboration between Cornell University, SETI Institute, and Breakthrough Listen. By directing their focus to the central region of the Milky Way, with its dense star clusters and potentially habitable exoplanets, the BLIPSS team is increasing their chances of capturing compelling evidence of extraterrestrial technology. If an alien civilization is to communicate with other civilizations across the Milky Way, the galactic core has the potential to be a strategic site for a lighthouse. SETI breakthrough listening (Image: Danielle Futselaar)

“BLIPSS showcases the potential of cutting-edge software as a science multiplier for SETI,” said Suresh.

SETI Institute astronomer Dr. Vishal Gajjar was one of Suresh’s advisers on the project. “Until now, SETI radio has dedicated its efforts to searching for signals continuously,” said Gajjar. “Our study highlights the extraordinary energy efficiency of pulse sequences as a means of interstellar communication across vast distances. In particular, this study marks the first comprehensive attempt to conduct an in-depth search for these signals.”

The team started by testing their algorithm on known pulsars, successfully detecting the expected periodic emissions. Next, they turned their attention to the Galactic Center scan data set captured by the Breakthrough Listen instrument on the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia. Unlike pulsars, which transmit signals across a wide range of radio frequencies, BLIPSS narrows its search to repeating signals within a narrower frequency range—covering less than one-tenth the width of the average FM radio station.

Dr. Steve Croft, Breakthrough Listening Project Scientist for GBT and Senior Adjunct Astronomer at the SETI Institute, highlighted the importance of this approach, as it combines narrow bandwidths with periodic patterns that can signal intentional technological activity by intelligent civilizations. Suresh’s technique presented a new methodology for sifting through this metaphorical haystack, allowing the team to identify tantalizing evidence of advanced extraterrestrial life forms.

PDF of paper (accepted for publication at Astronomy Journal), a link to the examined data set, and artist’s concept of an artificial periodic emitter are available at https://seti.berkeley.edu/blipss/.



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