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Earth’s most powerful alien-hunting telescope turns its gaze to mysterious star

A mysterious structure orbits a star almost 1,500 light-years from Earth. Its enormous size and unusual shape has made its host star, KIC 8462852 — Tabby’s star — a subject of interest, speculation, and controversy over the past year, with some experts even suggesting it could be an alien megastructure.

Most astronomers remain skeptical about that but are nonetheless intrigued as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) projects to observe Tabby’s star continue.

Now, a team of University of California, Berkeley astronomers have turned their gaze toward Tabby’s Star as a part of its 10-year, $100 million initiative to find extraterrestrial intelligence.

“The Breakthrough Listen program has the most powerful SETI equipment on the planet, and access to the largest telescopes on the planet,” Dr. Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and co-director of Breakthrough Listen, said in a press release. “We can look at it with greater sensitivity and for a wider range of signal types than any other experiment in the world. ”

Over the next two months, the astronomers will observe the star for eight hours over three nights from the Green Bank Observatory in rural West Virginia. Green Bank hosts the largest steerable radio telescope on Earth and the most sensitive telescope capable of targeting the star. A new instrument connected to the dish will allow the astronomers to listen to billions of radio channels simultaneously and collect hundreds of gigabytes of data each day. It will be one of the most ambitious projects to observe the star yet, but it will by no means be the first to listen.

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“Everyone, every SETI program telescope, I mean every astronomer that has any kind of telescope in any wavelength that can see Tabby’s star has looked at it,” Siemion said. “It’s been looked at with Hubble, it’s been looked at with Keck, it’s been looked at in the infrared and radio and high energy, and every possible thing you can imagine, including a whole range of SETI experiments. Nothing has been found.”

It will take another month for the astronomers to sift through the radio signals for any patterns. Even then, the Berkeley team will need to enlist the help of other scientists to analyze the troves of data they collected and determine whether they made contact with aliens.

Siemion and his colleague Jason Wright will join the star’s namesake, astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, in a live video chat from Green Bank, West Virginia, on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.