A project in South Africa multiplies by 1,000 the chances of finding extraterrestrial life

The MeerKAT radio telescope

The Breakthrough Listen project, focused on the exploration of technosignatures, will study an observation field 50 times larger and with more tools than other telescopes around the world.

The always chimerical search for extraterrestrial life will multiply by 1,000 the chances of finding traces of it over the next two years.

This is the letter with which the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) has presented the operations it plans to carry out within the framework of the Breakthrough Listen project, focused on exploring the so-called technosignatures, technology indicators of alien origin throughout the universe.

The program, specifically, will take place at the powerful MeerKAT radio telescope, in the desert region of South Africa, the Karoo, and where an instrument will be deployed that will complement the searches already underway at other telescopes in the world. This tool, named MeerKAT Array, will use the 64 dishes that MeerKAT is equipped with to study an area 50 times larger than that covered by observatories such as Green Bank, in the US.

As explained by SARAO, the new supercomputer that incorporates the infrastructure makes it possible to combine signals from the 64 dishes to obtain high-resolution scans of a wide field of stars with excellent sensitivity, but without affecting the research of other astronomers who are using the same matrix of stars. radio telescopes. In this sense, the experts add, scanning 64 targets at the same time within the main field of view also improves the accuracy obtained by rejecting interfering signals from human technology, such as satellites.

Alpha Centauri, the priority

The place for which the members of the project will begin to investigate will be the Alpha Centauri system, located about 4.36 light years from Earth and made up of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, B and C, of which the last (also called Proxima Centauri) harbors two small rocky planets in its habitable zone. Together, the explorations will focus on the so-called Local Universe, a spherical region that extends from Earth to about 1 billion light-years in any direction.

Despite the fact that the detection of technosignatures constitutes the main reference for specialists in the search for extraterrestrial life, only the so-called ‘Wow! signal’, received in 1977, has maintained since then a possible extraterrestrial origin that has never been confirmed.

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