Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg team up to search for alien life

KIC 8462852 – also known as Tabby’s Star – has sparked a lot of excitement recently for its unusual dimming pattern.

Although the pattern is likely due to a swarm of comets or the remnants of a smashed planet blocking out light from the star, that hasn’t stopped people from being drawn to the highly remote possibility of an alien ‘megastructure’ being the cause of the blinking pattern.

Now, the University of California Berkley has announced plans to examine the curious star with the Green Bank radio telescope through its Breakthrough Listen project. The telescope is nearly 330 feet wide and located in West Virginia.

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

Searching for Alien Life

The Breakthrough Listen project was established last year thanks to $100 million in funding over 10 years from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, created by internet investor Yuri Milner. The project won’t be the first such program to scrutinize Tabby’s Star for signs of intelligent life.

“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,” Milner 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.”

While the UC Berkeley team said they are skeptical the star’s odd pattern is an indication of a sophisticated alien civilization, they say it still deserves study. Observations of the star are slated for 8 hours a night for three nights over the next two months. The researchers have traveled to the Green Bank Observatory in rural West Virginia to begin the observations, and said they plan to accumulate around 1 petabyte of data over hundreds of millions of radio channels.


Image credit: Thinkstock



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