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More Ears

The world’s largest search for ET has added more “ears” to the project. It’s using MeerKAT — an array of 64 radio telescopes in South Africa. The array can scan much more of the sky than the project’s current instruments. That allows it to listen in on many more stars.

Breakthrough Listen has been operating for three years. It uses giant radio dishes in the United States and Australia, plus a few smaller ones.

The telescopes listen for radio signals produced by civilizations in other star systems. They’re not sensitive enough to pick up routine radio broadcasts. But they could detect high-powered radar beams or similar signals. The goal is to scan a million or more nearby star systems, plus a few more-distant targets.

The project has detected a few interesting signals. But detailed study has revealed that almost all of them are either interference from radio sources on Earth, or they’re produced by stars or other astronomical objects.

MeerKAT will expand the project’s reach. It can monitor up to 64 target stars at a time, and should be sensitive to signals within about 250 light-years. Breakthrough Listen will piggyback off the work of other projects, so it’ll operate any time the telescopes are aiming at the sky.

One of the first targets is Proxima Centauri, our closest neighboring star system, about four light-years away. At least two planets orbit the star, and there could be more — potential homes for ET.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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