Alien-Hunting Breakthrough Listen Launches New Survey of Millions Of Stars

The Breakthrough Listen project has started a new search for signs of intelligent alien life. Using cutting-edge equipment, astronomers are surveying millions of stars in the Milky Way for strange and mysterious signals that might be generated by extraterrestrials.

This new survey—which Listen states is by far the biggest search for alien life ever undertaken—will probe all of the galactic plane visible from the site of the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, as well as a region around the center of the galaxy.

5_9_Parkes Telescope
The CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope aims toward the sky. This same telescope was used to beam images from the Apollo 11 mission to the world. Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images

Listen is one of a number of Breakthrough Initiatives launched in 2015 by billionaires Yuri and Julia Milner aiming to find evidence of alien life. The Initiatives famously gained the support of leading physicists, including Martin Rees and the late Stephen Hawking.

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Listen has been scanning the skies with the Parkes telescope in New South Wales, Australia, since 2016. On the northern hemisphere, astronomers comb the cosmos with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

Upgrades to the Parkes telescope—including a new "multibeam" receiver and an improved back-end—have enabled the new expanded search. The telescope can now survey large areas of the skies much faster and process far more data than before, Listen states.

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New improvements should also help astronomers separate mysterious space signals from the barrage of radio noise generated by humans.

"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.

The telescope will search for fast radio bursts alongside its hunt for mysterious intelligent signals. It's unclear what causes FRBs, but these short, bright flashes have baffled scientists for more than a decade.

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This new survey—which will take place over 1,500 hours in 2018—should produce almost 100 petabytes of raw data. "By trawling through these huge datasets for signatures of technological civilizations," Price said, "We hope to uncover evidence that our planet, among the hundreds of billions in our galaxy, is not the only one where intelligent life has arisen."

So far, Listen's data hasn't found any signs of intelligent alien life. Only time will tell if this lastest endeavor is enough to track down any elusive E.T.'s.