Renewed interest in Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun

Proxima Centauri –Breakthrough Listen Project

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Proxima Centauri - "Breakthrough Listen Project"

In News:

  • Astronomers with the “Breakthrough Listen Project” are investigating a mysterious radio wave signal from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth’s Sun.
  • The signal named Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1 or BLC-1 was detected in April, 2019, by the Parkes radio telescope at Parkes Observatory in Australia. The signal has not been spotted again.
  • Scientists are currently working on a paper explaining BLC1, which is expected to be released early next year.

News Summary:

  • All the findings of the Breakthrough Listen Project till now, have been from either natural sources or interference caused by humans.
  • However, a signal named Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1 or BLC-1, detected in April, 2019, is being considered a mysterious radio wave signal from the direction of Proxima Centauri, and thus of great interest.
  • Unlike the BLP’s previous findings, BLC-1 has interesting characteristics.
  • Its signal frequency is 982 Mhz, which is a narrow-band value that is not transmitted by human-made spacecraft or satellites.
  • Further, there is no natural astronomical phenomenon that can generate such a radio signal.

Analysis of the signal:

  • The above mentioned reasons increase the possibility that the emission could be an alien “technosignature”.
  • It means that something that provides evidence of alien technology, and could have come from some form of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).
  • However, there are also reasons to believe that the signal might not mean be from ‘aliens’.
  • Since only the Parkes observatory has picked up the signal and the signal has not appeared again, it would be impossible to verify that it came from Proxima Centauri.
  • Another possibility could be that the signal could have been caused by something behind Proxima Centauri, or by a natural phenomenon whose existence is not known till now.

About: Proxima Centauri

  • Proxima Centauri is a star located 4.2 light-years away from Earth’s Sun in the southern constellation of Centaurus. This distance is considered a close distance in cosmic terms.
  • It was discovered in 1915 and is the nearest-known star to the Sun.
  • Its mass is about an eighth of the Sun’s mass, and it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye from Earth.

About: Proxima b

  • Proxima b, is one of the two planets that revolve around Proxima Centauri.
  • Proxima b is 1.2 times larger than Earth and orbits its star (Proxima Centauri) in 11 days. Moreover, it lies in Proxima Centauri’s “Goldilocks zone”.
  • Goldilocks zone is the area around a star where it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface of surrounding planets. For example, the Earth is in the Sun’s Goldilocks zone.
  • However, this does not mean that water is certainly present on Proxima b.
  • Proxima b is also tidally locked with its star, just like the Moon is to Earth. This means, that one side of the planet always has daylight, while the other side is always dark.
  • According to scientists, it is difficult to imagine that Proxima b could have a stable climatic system under such conditions.

About: Breakthrough Listen Project (BLP)

  • Breakthrough Listen Project was started by cosmologist Stephen Hawking to search for intelligent extraterrestrial communications in the Universe. The project began in 2016, and is expected to continue for 10 years.
  • Extraterrestrial intelligence refers to the theoretical possibility of other forms of life that may exist beyond Earth and is capable of thinking.
  • The project aims to discover signs of extraterrestrial civilizations by searching stars and galaxies for radio signals and laser transmissions.
  • Targets for the project include one million nearby stars and the centers of 100 galaxies.
  • The search for radio signals is carried out from the Parkes Observatory in Australia and the Green Bank Observatory in the US.
  • With $100 million in funding and thousands of hours of dedicated telescope time, it is the most comprehensive search for alien communications till now.

Also Read: Science Updates: NASA’s SOFIA Discovers Water on Sunlit Surface of Moon

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