The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Parkes Observatory radio telescope in Australia is now part of Breakthrough Listen, the largest research program looking for alien civilizations, it has been announced.
The Parkes observatory joins two American radio telescopes, Green Bank in West Virgina and the Automated Planet Finder in California, in addition to China’s FAST, the world largest radio telescope. Parkes will provide something completely new: a very sensitive ear in the Southern Hemisphere.
Breakthrough Listen will have access to 25 percent of the science time available on the Parkes telescope over the next five years. The project studies stars for any radio waves that are out of the ordinary and possibly an indicator of extraterrestrial intelligence, with no luck so far. But hunting advanced civilizations is only part of the mission.
“The detection system on Parkes will be simultaneously searching for naturally occurring phenomena such as pulsars and fast radio bursts, which are a large part of Parkes’ present work,” Dr Bailes, Breakthrough Listen’s Australian science coordinator, said in a statement.
“The Australian science community welcomes the opportunity to share the Breakthrough Listen data for other ongoing research projects.”
On November 8, the Parkes telescope had its official “first light” for Breakthrough Listen after 14 days of commissioning and test observations. The chosen target to celebrate the beginning of operations was no other than Proxima b, the recently discovered exoplanet around the closest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri.
Proxima b is an Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of its star, which is located just 4.2 light-years from us, a tiny distance in interstellar terms. The researchers were not expected to find much, as the chances of finding life on a single planet are incredibly small.
“But once we knew there was a planet right next door, we had to ask the question, and it was a fitting first observation for Parkes,” said Dr Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center and leader of the Breakthrough Listen science program, in the statement.
“To find a civilization just 4.2 light years away would change everything.”
The project is financed by Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner and is part of the Breakthrough Initiatives, a series of projects that aim to help humanity make “the great leap to the stars.” Milner was very pleased that the Parkes telescope is now part of Breakthrough Listen, along with the others.
“These major instruments are the ears of planet Earth, and now they are listening for signs of other civilisations,” he said.