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Fifth Element

Scientists are investigating a strange radio signal for alien life

The radio beam appears to have come from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun

Scientists are investigating an intriguing radio wave emission from a nearby star for alien life.

The narrow beam of radio waves is being examined by astronomers on the Breakthrough Listen project (a project in search for evidence of life in space). The ‘signal’ was picked up during 30 hours of observations by the Parkes telescope in Australia between April and May last year. It appears to have come from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun.

While similar blasts of radio waves have been attributed to human-made interferences, like satellites, the nature of the recent ‘signal’ has proven to be consistent with the movement of a planet, prompting scientists to look further.

“The Breakthrough Listen team has detected several unusual signals and is carefully investigating. These signals are likely interference that we cannot yet fully explain. Further analysis is currently being undertaken,” Pete Worden, the former director of Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California and executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, told the Guardian.

Even so, the chances that the radio beam is actually a sign from aliens is slim. “If there is intelligent life there, it would almost certainly have spread much more widely across the galaxy. The chances of the only two civilisations in the entire galaxy happening to be neighbours, among 400bn stars, absolutely stretches the bounds of rationality,” Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist and professor of science communication at the University of Westminster, told the Guardian.

He added: “It’s hard to imagine how you can have a stable climatic system and all the things you need to get from bacteria, which are hardy, up to intelligent animal life forms, which certainly are not. But I’d love to be proved wrong.”