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Scientists searching for aliens tracking 'unusual' radio wave from sun's closest star

Scientists involved in a project in search of alien life are now investigating a mysterious radio wave signal that appears to have come from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun. 

The Guardian reported the finding Friday, writing that the emission was picked up during 30 hours of observations by the Parkes telescope in Australia in April and May last year. 

Scientists working on the Breakthrough Listen Project have been investigating the emission since its detection, although the source still remains unclear. However, the Guardian reported that scientists found a shift in the beam’s frequency is consistent with the movement of a planet. 

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An individual in the astronomy community who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the work is ongoing told The Guardian that the beam that appears to have come from the direction of Proxima Centauri has not been spotted again since the initial observation. 

The source told the newspaper that the most recent beam is “the first serious candidate since the ‘Wow! signal,’ ” a radio signal picked up by the Big Ear Radio Observatory in Ohio in 1977.

Breakthrough Listen, launched in 2015 by Silicon Valley-based science and technology investor Yuri Milner, surveys the 1 million stars closest to Earth and “listens for messages from the 100 closest galaxies to ours” to find “evidence of civilizations beyond Earth,” according to the project’s website

At the project’s launch event in 2015 at the Royal Society in London, the late physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking called the research “critically important.” 

“Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know,” Hawking, who passed away in 2018 after a decades-long battle with ALS, said at the time. “We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”

Proxima Centauri, located 4.2 light years away from Earth, is known to have at least two planets orbiting around it. According to The Guardian, one is believed to be a gas giant, while the other a rocky planet about 17 percent larger than Earth, known as “Proxima b.” 

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The planet lies within Proxima Centauri's “habitable zone,” meaning it is at the temperature level that would allow water to flow, long leading to speculation as to whether life exists on the planet. 

However, a report published in The Astrophysical Journal last week by a team of Australian researchers indicated that the planets around Proxima Centauri are likely exposed to dangerous radiation stellar flares and plasma ejections. 

"The Earth has a very powerful planetary magnetic field that shields us from these intense blasts of solar plasma. But given Proxima Centauri is a cool, small red-dwarf star, it means this habitable zone is very close to the star; much closer in than Mercury is to our Sun," lead author Andrew Zic, who undertook the research while at the University of Sydney, said in a news statement.

"What our research shows is that this makes the planets very vulnerable to dangerous ionising radiation that could effectively sterilize the planets,” he added.