A TERRIFIC signal from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, may have been sent by an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization, astronomers believe.
Radio wave sequence was detected by the Parkes telescope in Australia in both April and May of last year – an official called it the first serious candidate for alien contact since the legendary “Wow!” signal of 1977. Despite extensive analysis, scientists have yet to identify a terrestrial source for the signal – ground-based equipment or a satellite, for example.
However, in the case of the latest occurrence, they are particularly intrigued because the signal appears to emanate from Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star just 4.2 light-years away.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one person in the astronomy community told the Guardian, “It’s the first serious candidate since the ‘Wow!’ signal.”
What they were referring to was a short narrowband radio signal picked up more than 40 years ago by the Big Ear Radio Observatory in Ohio.
In fact, it got its name because astronomer Jerry Ehman was so surprised that he wrote “Wow!” next to the data – although he later cautioned against drawing “big conclusions from half-hearted data.”
A £74 million ($100 million) project, Breakthrough Listen’s mission is to find intelligent extraterrestrial communications in the universe.
It was started in 2016 and is an offshoot of Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives project.
Professor Avi Loeb, who serves as chairman of another subsidiary of the project, the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee, told Express.co.uk that it was important to be careful with the claims, pointing out that no scientific paper had yet been published.
He added: “We must first examine the data and verify that it cannot be explained by radio interference from Earth or by a natural emission mechanism from Proxima Centauri and its planets.
“The nature of the source can be identified by additional observations from radio telescopes at other locations – where the terrestrial interference should be different.
“At this point, it is too early to draw conclusions for our efforts in space from the available information.”
Pete Worden, former director of Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California and executive director of Breakthrough Initiatives, said, “The Breakthrough Listen team has detected several unusual signals and is studying them carefully.
“These signals are likely interference that we cannot yet fully explain. Further analysis is underway.”
Proxima Centuari, which is too faint to be seen with the naked eye, is a member of the Alpha Centauri system.
It has an average density about 33 times that of the Sun and one-eighth the mass.
The star system has two known planets.
Proxima Centauri b, confirmed in 2016, has a density at least 1.17 times that of Earth and orbits the star in about 11.2 Earth days.
Proxima Centauri c, a super-Earth discovered last year, takes 1,900 days to orbit the star.
Although the first planet lies in the star’s habitable zone, scientists are skeptical that life could exist there because of the frequency of solar flares.