Our quest to communicate with alien life forms continues without so much as a “sup?” text back. According to two recently released scientific papers published after one of the most extensive searches of our time, scientists have still found no sign of alien life. E.T. has not been phoning home anytime in the past few years.
The latest data comes from the Breakthrough Listen project, a “scientific program searching for evidence of technological life in the Universe.” The initiative essentially eavesdropped on a significant amount of space, surveying one million nearby stars, the entire Milky Way plane, and 100 nearby galaxies for radio and optical signals. In other words, if the aliens were bleeping and bloopings at a detectable frequency near us, we’d hear them.
However, after three years of extensive surveying, listening to 1,327 stars within 160 light years of the Earth, the researchers haven’t heard much of anything. Not a blip. Not a blop. Not a “hey, what’s up, hello.”
“It’s quiet out there,” Dr. Danny Price, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Breakthrough Listen project, told The Guardian. “We haven’t found anything in the data, but I’m certainly not giving up hope. There are still so many more stars to look at and more search approaches to consider.”
During Breakthrough Listen’s three-year effort, the researchers scanned billions of radio channels. They had hopes of detecting “technosignatures,” electromagnetic signals distinct from the kind of radio waves we send out on Earth, ones that would indicate communication among some form of alien life. While scanning, they were able to rule out any natural or Earth-made signals. Per a press release on the papers, the study “represents the largest release of SETI data in the history of its field.”
While it may seem the scientists turned up empty-handed, the lead researchers are looking at the results with scientific optimism. “This data release is a tremendous milestone for the Breakthrough Listen team,” Dr. Price said in the press release.“We scoured thousands of hours of observations of nearby stars, across billions of frequency channels. We found no evidence of artificial signals from beyond Earth, but this doesn't mean there isn't intelligent life out there: we may just not have looked in the right place yet, or peered deep enough to detect faint signals.”
“While we have been making smaller subsets of data public before in varying forms and contexts,” Matt Lebofsky, BSRC's Lead System Administrator, added. “we are excited and proud to offer this first cohesive collection along with an instruction manual, so everybody can dig in and help us search. And we’re just getting started – there’s much more to come!”
If you’d like to scour the data for yourself, you can read both papers here.
The two papers come a few weeks after the New York Times reported on accounts from Navy pilots who saw “unexplained flying objects.” Between the summer of 2014 and March 2015, pilots saw these “strange objects” flying almost daily. If you’re wondering how a Navy pilot responds to a possible UFO encounter, according to the Times, it sounds a little like, “Wow, what is that, man?” and “Look at it fly!” There is still no conclusive information on what exactly these objects were.
Lest you find the latest survey results disheartening, allow me to point you to the Are We Alone? tab on Breakthrough Listen’s website. “Are we the Universe’s only child - our thoughts its only thoughts? Or do we have cosmic siblings - an interstellar family of intelligence?” they ask. “As Arthur C. Clarke said, ‘In either case the idea is quite staggering.’”
“That means the search for life is the ultimate ‘win-win’ endeavor,” it continues. “All we have to do is take part.”