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Listening In

If you want to hear the sounds of civilization, you’re likely to head downtown. If you want the sounds of nature, then you’re likely to head for the country.

That reflects the strategy in recent months of the world’s biggest search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s been aiming its radio telescopes toward the center of the Milky Way — the galaxy’s busy “downtown.”

Breakthrough Listen began in 2016. It uses radio telescopes in the United States and Australia to listen for signals from other civilizations. It also uses an optical telescope to look for high-powered lasers. It’s scanned hundreds of thousands of stars across a wide range of wavelengths. Most of its observations are still being analyzed.

In recent months, it’s taken aim at the center of the galaxy. There are a lot more scannable stars in that direction than in any other — stars in the center, and stars across the 27,000 light-years or so between Earth and the galaxy’s hub.

In addition, the center of the galaxy is considered the best location for a beacon to signal worlds throughout the Milky Way. It could even serve as the hub for a sort of galactic Internet.

Early results have found no evidence of powerful beacons. But researchers still have hundreds of hours of recordings to study in their quest to find other civilizations in our galactic home.

We’ll talk about efforts to find new stars in that region of the sky tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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