Aliens or spy satellites? Stephen Hawking’s project detects mysterious radio signals

Stephen Hawking’s The Breakthrough Listen project detected fast radio bursts last week but scientists said they don’t know where the signals came from.

science Updated: Sep 06, 2017 13:03 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aliens,Radio signals,Stephen Hawking
(Representative image)

Scientists are wondering if about 15 radio signals picked up by Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Listen project are from spy satellites, aliens transmitting messages or just energy released from celestial objects.

The Breakthrough Listen project, a $100 million initiative, was set up by physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to search for intelligent life in the universe. It detected fast radio bursts (FRBs) last week but scientists said they don’t know where the signals came from.

“We really have no idea about where they come from,” Vishal Gajjar, one of the scientists from the University of California Berkeley Research Centre, told The Daily Telegraph.

FRBs last a few milliseconds and erupt with about as much energy as the sun releases in a month, according to the website New Scientist.

About two dozen radio signals have been recorded before, reported The Guardian, adding that 15 more signals have been observed from the same source and at a higher frequency than the previous signals.

The project’s initial 10-year programme will survey the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth, scanning the entire galactic plane of the Milky Way. Beyond our galaxy it will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies at 10 billion different frequencies.

Signals detected earlier have originated from rotating neutron stars with extreme magnetic fields. Other explanations offered for such radio bursts include energy sources used by extraterrestrial civilisations to power spacecraft.

A 2015 article on the website New Scientist said it is also possible the telescopes are picking up signals from unmapped human technology such as spy satellites.

“If some form of life would like to produce a signal that is detectable to another civilisation, this could be a way to do it but I don’t think they are coming from intelligent civilisations,” said Gujjar.

“There are more theories than the number of sources. We have opened more questions than answers. As we do more study we find more weird things.”

The Breakthrough project does not beam signals onto space because it believes there’s more to learn from simply listening.

The project’s findings were first published in The Astronomer’s Telegram.

(With PTI inputs)

First Published: Sep 06, 2017 12:56 IST