Hunting Aliens in the Center of the Milky Way: Scientists Pursue Narrow Frequency Radio Pulses

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A group of scientists have created software to hunt for narrow-frequency radio pulses emanating from within the Milky Way as a potential way to detect intelligent alien life. Utilizing the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the software is able to scan 1.5 million telescope data samples in just 30 minutes. The team is looking to the center of the Milky Way because of its high concentration of stars and the possibility of finding habitable exoplanets. Although the initial search did not detect any significant indications, researchers hope the speed of the algorithm will enhance future exploration endeavors.

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Scientists are turning to the center of the Milky Way to look for potential signs of intelligent alien life. Published in The Astrononmical Journal, a new study shows how scientists are hunting for narrow-frequency radio pulses emanating from within our galaxy that could reveal the existence of aliens. Pulsars naturally emit these pulses but they also happen to be used by our species for certain technologies like radar.

The Breakthrough Listen campaign was launched in 2015 to search for intelligent life in the Universe

As these pulses are very conspicuous and tend to stand out from the background noise of space, they could, scientists argue, be a great way to communicate over long distances. If their hypothesis is correct, the theory goes, we should be able to scan for them and potentially eavesdrop on distant alien civilizations' conversations.

And so, a group of researchers with Akshay Suresh (a graduate student from Cornell University) as the lead, has created software capable of identifying just these sorts of recurring frequency patterns. The team tested the software on known pulsars to ensure that it can accurately detect the narrow frequencies, which are significantly smaller than those utilized by a standard FM radio station. Subsequently, they utilized the software to analyze data from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia."Until now, radio SETI has primarily dedicated its efforts to the search for continuous signals," study coauthor Vishal Gajjar of the SETI Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the search for intelligent life in the universe, said in a statement. "Our study sheds light on the remarkable energy efficiency of a train of pulses as a means of interstellar communication across vast distances. Notably, this study marks the first-ever comprehensive endeavor to conduct in-depth searches for these signals," he said.

Green Bank Telescope is the world's largest steerable single dish telescope.

The team is focussing their studies on the middle of the Milky Way galaxy due to its high concentration of stars and the possibility of finding habitable exoplanets. Additionally, intelligent extraterrestrial life located in the core of the galaxy could easily communicate with other planets by sending signals across a vast range. By using narrow bandwidths and repeating patterns, these aliens could potentially expose themselves, as such a combination is highly improbable in natural occurrences according to Steve Croft, a project scientist with the Breakthrough Listen program and co-author of the study.

Pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars and their emissions are regularly patterned.

Using an algorithm, the new scanning technique can swiftly search through 1.5 million telescope data samples within 30 minutes. Despite not detecting any significant indications during the initial search, researchers believe that the algorithm's speed will enhance future exploration endeavors. "Breakthrough Listen captures huge volumes of data, and Akshay’s technique provides a new method to help us search that haystack for needles that could provide tantalizing evidence of advanced extraterrestrial life forms," Croft added.

The detected frequencies are much smaller than those used by FM radio stations.

You can view the study for yourself in the journal The Astronomical Journal.

Study abstract: .

Radio searches for extraterrestrial intelligence have mainly targeted the discovery of narrowband continuous-wave signals. The advent of low-cost signal processing capabilities on current-generation radio receivers has sparked recent interest in the search for pulsed extraterrestrial signals. In this work, we provide a detailed overview of signal extraction and candidate selection when searching for pulsed emission within radio frequency spectra. We present algorithms to systematically search for pulsed emission and to identify periodic, transient, and quasi-periodic candidates using the computational resources of laptop and desktop computers. Applying our candidate selection code to data from the Breakthrough Listen campaign at the Green Bank Telescope, we recovered several periodically pulsing sources reported in the literature. We also implemented processing methods designed to search for transient events and quasi-periodically emitted signals.

The study uses an algorithm to search through 1.5 million telescope data samples in just 30 minutes.

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