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There’s a weird signal coming from a nearby star, but it’s probably not aliens

The Allen Telescope Array, which collects data for SETI Seth Shostak/SETI Institute

A strange signal has been detected coming from a nearby star, Proxima Centauri. Nicknamed the “Wow! 2020 signal,” it was detected as part of the Breakthrough Listen project which works on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

In a rather odd occurrence, news of the detection seems to have been leaked to British newspaper the Guardian by one of the scientists involved before the findings are officially published. This is not how science usually operates, as it means the data is not yet available in papers for others to see.

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Nevertheless, the detected signal is still interesting — although experts are skeptical that it is direct evidence of intelligent life. The SETI Institute, one of the biggest organizations involved in SETI, warned in a blog post that: “it might just be us, led astray by our own technology.”

As reported by the Guardian, the signal was detected between April and May over a period of 30 hours of observations using the Parkes telescope in Australia. The radio wave emission was around 980MHz and seemed to shift in frequency along with the movement of one of the planets in the system.

But experts have raised questions about the likelihood of the signal being sent by aliens. “The idea of a technologically advanced civilization, living around our nearest stellar neighbor, is quite extraordinary. But currently, we’re left with more questions than answers,” Franck Marchis, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute and Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar, said in a statement emailed to Digital Trends. “How is it that the signal was detected only once in 30 hours in April and May? Why didn’t observers alert the scientific community to confirm the signal after its discovery?”

Marchis went on to point out how unlikely it is that an intelligent civilization should happen to spring up so nearby to us: “Of the 300 million exoplanets that could be habitable in our galaxy, which is 200,000 light-years in diameter, it would be quite the coincidence for two civilizations (ours and the one that would be on Proxima b or c) to be using the same technology at the same time.”

“Although I love the idea, it seems highly improbable,” he concluded. “I suspect we will quickly find a more down-to-earth explanation for the origin of this signal.”

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