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Did We Just Discover Alien Life? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
Have we finally discovered genuine alien life?? Join us... and find out what's got scientists excited!

For decades now, we've been scanning the skies looking for SOMETHING to prove that aliens exist. Recently, though, we've uncovered more potential alien techno-signatures than ever before. High power telescopes in USA and Australia have been reporting extremely unusual data... and some scientists believe that we may have finally made first contact with aliens.
Transcript

Did We Just Discover Alien Life?


For decades now, astronomers have had their eyes and ears turned to the sky hoping to detect signs of alien life. We’ve had a lot of near misses, close calls and tantalising hints at extraterrestrial existence… but nothing by way of incontestable, undeniable proof. Does a surge of recent news stories, though, suggest that that is about to change?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; did we just discover alien life?

In December 2020, news broke in the newspaper “The Guardian” that an unusual, alien radio signal had been detected coming from the direction of Proxima Centauri - the closest star to our sun. Scientists and astronomers then scrambled to make sense of it, and by early 2021 the list of potential explanations has grown longer and longer. Is it, as most strange signals turn out to be, simply the product of human interference or error? A natural phenomenon? Or is it a genuine alien techno-signature? Is this truly first contact with alien life?

The radio waves in question aren’t exactly dramatic, however. They were spotted by the high-power Parkes telescope in Australia, as part of the pioneering SETI initiative, Breakthrough Listen. The signal has been described as a narrow beam… with its behaviour possibly linked to a far-off planet. Potentially Proxima b, a tidally locked world only just bigger than Earth, thought to be within the habitable zone of its star system. Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 lightyears away from us - a currently unreachable distance in terms of ever travelling there, but extremely close by in the totality of the universe!

That closeness, though, is one reason why many scientists remain sceptical. The signal - which has since been more formally named Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1, or BLC1 - appears to originate from what is, in cosmic terms, our next-door neighbour. For many, that’s just too much of a coincidence. We might’ve detected alien life anywhere else in the sky, but actually it was right by us all along… what are the chances of that?

Nevertheless, alongside the scepticism, astronomers have so far been unable to categorically rule out that BLC1 is the product of alien technology. The clincher will be if it’s ever detected again. So far, it hasn’t been… but it is all eyes in the same direction, ready to catch any repeat signal. If that happens then there will be an even greater buzz around BLC1. It would no longer be just a one-off anomaly… and it could become one of the most significant science stories of the twenty-first century.

Already, it’s being compared to the famous Wow! Signal, detected in 1977 by the Big Ear radio telescope in the US. The Wow! Signal was also a narrow radio signal, this time coming from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. It got its name thanks to an annotation made by the astronomer Jerry Ehman on the printout of data… and no-one has ever definitely determined what it was.

For anyone hoping that it’s aliens, though, the disappointment is that we’ve tried to re-detect the Wow! Signal countless times, and so far nothing. So, this one does seem to have been a one-off. A cosmic blip in our search for extraterrestrial communication. Perhaps, in a few decades’ time, BLC1 will be remembered in the same way… or perhaps between now and then we’ll have proven that it’s something else.

What’s exciting, though, is that BLC1 isn’t the only signal to have caught our attention in the twenty-first century. It wasn’t even the only one in the year 2020. In June, there were widespread reports of a repeating signal, moving through a reliable, 157-day pattern of cosmic activity. Scientists recorded more than thirty run-throughs of this pattern, with it most commonly thought to originate from a massive star or black hole.

Meanwhile, in November 2020, reports dropped that another mysterious signal had been spotted, from earlier in the year. This time, astronomers pinpointed it to a magnetar at a distant spot in the Milky Way. A magnetar is a powerful neutron star so, again, the most prominent theories surrounding this signal don’t tend to include alien life. But that doesn’t mean that SETI enthusiasts aren’t still excited. The sky, in recent times, seems to be alive with noise!

But what would actually happen if we did detect a definitely alien techno-signature? If we found in the next few months, for example, that BLC1 is extraterrestrial? How could such an event change the course of history?

At first, despite the enormous implications of its discovery, the whole thing could feel a little… underwhelming. After all, we’re dealing in radio waves, here. There’s nothing to see, touch or really experience in any way. And it’s a far cry from most first contact science fiction movies! Replace gun-toting extra-terrestrials with note-taking scientists, and it’s an altogether more subdued affair.

For the long-term, though, we’d have some major decisions to make. And top of the agenda would be; if we’ve just received communications from an alien civilization, should we send communications back? This could be a source of worldwide debate, protest, and perhaps even vote. But ultimately, we’d see a select group of scientists, astronomers and SETI experts form, charged with managing the conversation.

And this would be a long conversation. In the case of BLC1 specifically, Proxima Centauri is 4.2 lightyears away from us… which means a back-and-forth time of close to a decade, just to send one message and receive a response. For anything further away than just the next-closest star to us, the time obviously lengthens… and for most of the universe, we’re talking whole generations passing by before even one message matches to another. That is unless we develop some other, superior means of beaming information across the stars.

For some, it’s a concerning trend that humankind now seems intent on making its presence known. Since the advent of radio we’ve been (often unknowingly) leaking radio waves from Earth, and therefore potentially alerting anything else to our existence. But we’ve also sent out some more deliberate, targeted signals before now… and, of course, there are the Voyager space probes, which famously carry golden records containing a hoard of Earth info for anything they come into contact with. The difference being that the Voyagers haven’t yet left the Oort Cloud, and won’t for thousands of years.

What do you think… are you worried that humanity is too noisy? There are theories, including the Dark Forest Theory, to suggest that keeping quiet might be the best thing to do. But, then again, if BLC1 is aliens… then what could we realistically do about it? It’s not as though the aliens behind it will have placed themselves in jeopardy just by alerting Earth to their position. We haven’t got the knowledge or technology to threaten them in any way. And, maybe, they’re at a similar stage.

So, instead, lets imagine that first radio contact is a positive thing. What would happen if BLC1 was aliens and they were friendly? Well, it could be the beginning of a crucial, cross-star-system relationship for us. And maybe for them, too. One to open up the eyes of the human race and usher us into a hugely accelerated space age. Even with all the years-long delays between radio messages, we’d now have the vital proof that alien life does exist. And that would be enough to inspire so many more people to look to the stars and pledge to one day explore them. We’d want to meet and get to know the civilization next door to us. But, also, we’d be more willing to bet on (and invest in) any number of plans to contact other star systems, in the hope that the same thing could be happening there.

For now, the world watches with interest as Parkes telescope (and a long list of others) are trained on Proxima Centauri, waiting for the same, strange signal to appear again. The snippets of information we have so far are actually based on data dating back to 2019… so this is a long-term effort in itself. But we can expect more discoveries and studies like this, as we gain a greater and greater understanding of how to read space.

It wasn’t so long ago that humans looked up and wondered what the sun was. Or the planets. But now, more than ever, we know what the twinkling expanse surrounding Earth contains. We can map the solar system and, increasingly, beyond. And we can single out individual radio signals, as we comb the universe in greater and greater detail. And that’s why we might have just discovered alien life… and if we haven’t then it might only be a matter of time before we do.
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