back to article After years of listening, we've heard not a single peep out of any aliens, say boffins. You think you can do better? OK, here's 1PB of signals

After years of listening to the cosmos, scientists have failed to pick up any sign of alien civilizations. So, the experts have dumped online a petabyte of signals picked up from the Breakthrough Listen project so nerds like you and me can rifle through the readings and have a crack at finding E.T. A staggering $100m (~£79,6m …

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A significant part of the problem

        "Hopefully with an easily decoded FAQ that tells us how to post / upload and etiquiette / code of conduct!"

        I just hope they aren't anal about top-posting. Judging by how some of the primates here get all out-of-sorts about it, I truly hope an advanced race with really advanced weapons isn't bothered by it at all.

        1. Robert Moore
          Pint

          Re: A significant part of the problem

          "Hopefully with an easily decoded FAQ that tells us how to post / upload and etiquiette / code of conduct!"

          You know the first reply will either be: "Frist Post!!!!" or "TL;DR"

        2. Bernard M. Orwell
          Alien

          Re: A significant part of the problem

          It'll be a EULA and, collectively, humanity will just click "we accept" without reading it....

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: A significant part of the problem

      <= This.

      Even if we extend the strong broadcast period of a technological society to 200 years, this 200 years would have to coincide with our listening period. That's the tiniest fraction of time compared to the timeline of even just our solar system during which a technological society could have evolved. When looking for such signals we'd have to be within range and looking for such a signal and incredibly lucky to be looking at the precise frequencies involved at the right time.

      It doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep listening... if we do so for tens of thousands of years then there is a reasonable chance of detecting something. Or we could be really lucky.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      Re: Wrong wavelength?

      Visible light might be a better giveaway?

      Granted, at out level, our tech does little to change the wavelength of the light reflected on the earth. But geologically and biologically speaking, it is vastly different from say Mars or Venus.

      Personally I observer there are no trees on the Moon, and no lakes on Mars, and conclude we are alone in the universe (the chance/appearance of life being 1 in a solar system appears true, and nothing states in cannot also be 1 in a Galaxy, or 1 in a universe event). However, I still accept the science of looking for other life out there is sound, but think the analysis of visible light passing through atmospheres on exoplanets is a better tell. Locally at least, as I don't think the ranges on that will give us an exhaustive search.

      Icon. Because some events happen simply in physics (the sun is nuclear), but only specifically for humans/lifes interactions (only we cause nuclear bombs).

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    A very low priority project

    $30m per year? I bet as a country we lose more than that much pocket change per day. In 2017 the federal government spent $75m on abstinence only education.

    1. Olivier2553

      Re: A very low priority project

      While they could have provided 375m condoms for free instead...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A very low priority project

        How will you get a virgin birth if you offer condoms?

        Abstinence is essential for the second coming. Or lying, everyone seems okay with that too. Just clean up the story when your writing the history in the future...

        1. Eddy Ito
          Coat

          Re: A very low priority project

          Are you saying the second coming is going to have to be done by hand?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Misleading headline

    The whole point is that they have found nio signals.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Misleading headline

      Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.

      Keep searching, it's a big universe, there must be something out there.

    2. Twanky
      Alien

      Re: Misleading headline

      You weren't supposed to have discovered Nio signals yet!

    3. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Misleading headline

      Yes in the tiny subset of star/frequency combinations they looked at, they found nothing they could interpret as an artificial signal.

      Our own galaxy is believed to have at least a billion stars, never mind the bilions of other galaxies. Maybe there's nothing out there, but they've barely scratched the surface.

      Signals could be too weak to detect, could be disguised to appear natural (why advertise?), maybe not using radio. Some species must be the first to achieve radio comms - statistically it's as likely to be us as it is any other species that might exist.

      Galactically speaking searching for 3 years, even 35 years (SETI) is a blink of an eye. It's a very, very narrow observation window - we could so easily miss the few decades of high-powered broadcasts before emitters become more directed and efficient.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Misleading headline

        "Galactically speaking", the whole of recorded history - about 10,000 years - is the blink of an eye, though. Exactly how much work should we put into this effort, on the basis that it will continue forever and will very likely never turn up anything even then?

        Maybe the others never used radio comms. After all, why would you need it, once you discovered slood?

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Misleading headline

          That only works for planets that have slood, in one or two they forgot and the slood stayed in the depot when the planets where created.

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Misleading headline

          Personally, I think that we ought to keep a low level of effort going pretty much forever. It's not something worth throwing massive amounts of resources at though, simply because as you say it's an effort that you may have to run for a few hundred thousand (or million) years before receiving any signal.

    4. veti Silver badge

      Re: Misleading headline

      ... So how do you feel misled, exactly?

    5. Anonymous Cowtard

      Re: Misleading headline

      I, for one, welcome our new Nio overlords.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    If we are alone

    We'd better try not to nuke ourselves or turn our life support machine into a greenhouse. For some reason we seem to be hell-bent on achieving what should be common sense to avoid doing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If we are alone

      well, this is apparently one explanation for no advance civilizations out there, they've already got to the point where humans are now: getting better and better at sawing off the branch they s

    2. GX5000

      Re: If we are alone

      We will, it's inevitable.

      The Human animal is stupid and competitive to the point of madness.

      If we don't Genetically modify ourselves soon to be able to survive out there we never will make it past year 3K.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    After years of listening, we've heard not a single peep out of any aliens

    cause you're deaf n dumb, that's why

    Yours sincerely,

    Lizzard of Oz

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: After years of listening, we've heard not a single peep out of any aliens

      You will be hearing from our lawyers shortly. Illegal distribution of "Game of Spawning Pools" is a serious crime.

      Otherwise, would a lack of response mean a lack of alien lawyers?

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: After years of listening, we've heard not a single peep out of any aliens

        You will be hearing from our lawyers shortly. Illegal distribution of "Game of Spawning Pools" is a serious crime.

        Otherwise, would a lack of response mean a lack of alien lawyers? ... Jellied Eel

        Probably Yes Definitely, Jellied Eel. It is not a field for just anybody, is it?

  5. Mage Silver badge
    Boffin

    Physics and Mathematics

    Even if the Galaxy is chock-a-block with tech civilisations we won't hear them. The Inverse Square Law, Shannon-Nyquist Law (noise vs information speed vs power) and the distance to the stars. It's dubious that any beamed transmission pointed straight at us would be strong enough even from the nearest stars. That's a nothing distance. Even 100x distance isn't much for our own galaxy, but needs 10,000 x the signal.

    What if it's just ordinary broadcasts? Well only VHF & UHF is much likely to leak into space. Any civilisation will design aerials to maximise the signal where it's wanted. So maybe a millionth of the signal of one beamed direct?

    The only way to detect Aliens is Spectroscopic analysis of how their sunlight is affected by their atmosphere. We don't quite have good enough gear yet, maybe the James Web telescope will detect something not explained except by industrial pollution?

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Physics and Mathematics

      Well only VHF & UHF is much likely to leak into space.

      Even that is doomed to failure, each frequency on those bands is in use in hundreds of locations around the globe, they don't interfere with each other because of the distances between transmitters.

      Signals leaking into space will be from all transmitters and as such isolating a single signal from the noise of all the others would be pretty close to impossible, even identifying a signal as non-random & synthetic might be impossible - locally it might be possible if you know the coding and protocols but doing the same from a distance of 10s or 100s of light years with no knowledge of the underlying principles - forget it.

      Well don't "forget it" but don't expect to be watching the equivalent of "Coronation Street" from Alpha Proxima.

    2. Twanky
      Pint

      Re: Physics and Mathematics

      A question I've asked before and not been able to find a satisfactory answer: Is Earth detectable from (say) Alpha Centauri now*? If the local small furry creatures had been regularly observing Sol for the last 35 years (SECI project) would they have actually noticed us - their closest** neighbours? Then apply that same question to not just observing Sol but trying to scan all observable planetary systems.

      Our space engineers efforts to maintain communications with various probes and rovers is impressive but not highly reliable even when they know exactly where the signals should be coming from. The comms from the first Moon landing only 50 years ago were heavily distorted - or was that caused by the trans-Atlantic television signal I was watching? They seem to have cracked near-Earth and interplanetary comms but... 'space is big'. We need more research.

      * Yes, I know, Simultaneous is not a thing at interstellar distances - but you know what I mean.

      ** I don't actually know if any other planetary system is closer to the Alpha Centauri system than Sol.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Physics and Mathematics

        The Alpha Centauri system is the closest to us, however it's a mess as it involves three stars which means that the likelihood of favourable conditions for any form of life is pretty low.

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Physics and Mathematics

          Million-to-one chance low? Probably happens 9 times out of 10

        2. Twanky

          Re: Physics and Mathematics

          'The Alpha Centauri system is the closest to us'. Yep, about 4.5 light years, I knew that. What I don't know is if there's another system closer to it than ours.

          I'll also admit that the triple star system thing might make snooping on the neighbours more difficult than in a simpler system - but are we even detectable at that distance if there is anything looking - or have we been detectable in the past 35years or so?

          Our intra-system exploration has mostly been in the plane of the ecliptic so our comms have mostly been directed that way. Given that exo-planets are usually* discovered by us as they transit their local star how difficult would it be to detect our planet looking from perpendicular to the ecliptic - let alone tell if it had intelligent** life?

          * Dunno if it's 'exclusively' - not 'usually'.

          ** For a given value of 'intelligent'.

          1. JetSetJim Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: Physics and Mathematics

            > What I don't know is if there's another system closer to it than ours.

            There isn't, Alpha Centauri contains Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our system, and is also the nearest planetary system to us

          2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: Physics and Mathematics

            Currently we can pretty much only detect planets in other star systems through one of two ways:

            The gravitational wobbles these cause their star (not strictyly true as the bodies orbit around each other therefore the centre point of the orbit is not the centre of the star, although it will be close - same way that the centre point of the earth/moon orbit is not the centre of the earth) - however this is only currently detectable for large mass planets and requires a reasonable timeframe of measurement to record and detect the change in position over time - complicated by our own orbit. For example to detect a large mass such as Jupiter it would have to be closer to the star than Jupiter and rather faster moving because otherwise we would need to observe the plantary system for a sizeabable fraction of the planet's orbit period - Jupiter has an orbit of 12 years which gives an indication of the time periods required for observation.

            The transit of a planet between the star and ourselves. This relies on both the system being aligned such that the planetary system is side on to ourselves (most won't be) and happening to being observing the star during the relatively short transit period and being able to measure the decrease in the star's observed output during this period and to perform this measurement a few times in order to remove any other reasons for the difference in the star's observed output.

            We are getting better at such measurements and observations and as time goes by we are discovering, and confirming, the existence of more and more planets in other systems; and the size of these planets is getting smaller and smaller too as our measurements are getting more accurate and are over a longer period.

          3. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: Physics and Mathematics

            Given that exo-planets are usually* discovered by us as they transit their local star how difficult would it be to detect our planet looking from perpendicular to the ecliptic - let alone tell if it had intelligent** life?

            Pretty damn difficult really - a species would have to be looking specifically at our system in order to observe it and to target it with rather better and more sensitive equipment than we can reasonably deploy - and to do so over a longer period of time.

            As for intelligent life... the jury is still out on that one.

    3. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Re: Physics and Mathematics

      As the signal from Voyager 1 with a 22.4 watt transmitter using a 3.7 meter diameter dish (0.6 degree beamwidth) can be read on earth at 20 light hours, it would be easily within current earth technology to produce a signal that could be read at 10 light years (and detectable for 100 light years) - a 25MW transmitter with a 0.1 degree beamwidth would suffice (and produce a higher signal at 10ly than Voyager 1 does at 20lh).

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Physics and Mathematics

        10 LY is 4,380x the distance of 20 light hours. So if everything else was equal that would need 19184400x the power. However even 100 LY might be a 1/10th of the distance of a neighbouring civilisation. And they'd have to be at the right stage of development and motivated to point a dish etc at us. Not likely.

        So is someone 10 LY away going to point a giant dish (about 25m) at us just when we point a giant dish at them?

        Then if the nearest tech civilisation was operating 100 LY away, 100 years ago, pointing a 25m dish at us they'd need 2500 MW!

        No, in terms of any likely density of tech civilisations at the right time, the probability that they are near enough and pointing the big dishes at us is very close to zero. Physics and mathematics say it's not likely.

        Any advanced civilisation looking for life elsewhere will use a big optical telescope in space and use spectroscopic analysis. The sending a radio signal idea is simply too expensive, short range and time consuming. You'd wait a long time for a reply even if it was plausible. In comparison the spectroscopic analysis is dramatically "cheaper", nearly instant and allows a survey of a huge portion of the sky in a few years.

        Then what do you do if you find life? Unless someone has discovered that stargates / jump drive / hyperspace / synthetic wormholes / <insert fictional physics> is possible and can make them, a visit isn't possible. Laser / Radio communications only plausible for 100% likely already identified target planet some 10s of LY distance. That's barely the doorstep. Our galaxy's disc diameter is about 150,000 to 200,000 LY across. Even if technically advanced civilisations are 1% of stars (which seems a madly high figure) there might not be any other current tech civilisation within a 1000 LY. That needs 10,000x the laser or radio power of a 10 LY away "neighbour". Also 1000 years ago.

        As Douglas Adams pointed out, Space is really big.

        1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

          Re: Physics and Mathematics

          Use a 250m disk (or bigger) or a large phased array - reducing the beamwidth from the 0.6 degrees of Voyager to 0.1 degrees has the same effect as raising the power in the beam by a factor of 36 - this coupled with a factor of over 1 million by replacing the 22.4 watt transmitter of Voyager with a 25MW transmitter on the ground gives an overall boost of over 36,000,000 times. With the inverse square law this gives a range increase of a factor of 6000. At a distance of 13ly (6000 times 20lh) the signal strength would be the same as earth receives from Voyager.

          1. JetSetJim Silver badge

            Re: Physics and Mathematics

            A 25MW transmitter on the ground will have a fair amount of atmospheric loss, I'd think

            1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

              Re: Physics and Mathematics

              The loss (in dB) should be about the same as the loss Voyager signals encounter going through the atmosphere in the other direction so the 6000x range increase still holds.

              1. JetSetJim Silver badge
                Facepalm

                Re: Physics and Mathematics

                fair point

  6. smudge
    Alien

    Equidistant Letter Sequence

    Have they tried ELS? There's bound to be a section where every nth bit spells out "If you can read this, you're too damn close".

    1. TechDrone
      Joke

      Re: Equidistant Letter Sequence

      Or they could try ELO, but that would require some Mr Bluesky thinking.

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        Re: Equidistant Letter Sequence

        This is a search to find some Livin' Thing.

  7. tullio

    SETI@home project

    I often see the Breakthrough Listen logo on data coming from Green Bamk when I run the SETI@home BOINC project on my PCs. I have't seen any data coming from Parkes. I am running also data from Arecibo, which BL does not use.

  8. Richard_Sideways
    Stop

    Will no-one think of the legal?

    Wonder what the GDPR compliance implications are of capturing and publically distributing potentially billions of off-world communications without the sender/recipients prior knowledge? Do we really want our first contact to be via Zarquon, Zarquon & Hive-mind Legal Associates, with a class action suit?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Re: Joke not a joke.

      The lovely thing called the "speed of light" means anything we discover, will be long out of the protected period of use. Unless there is an Alien equivalent of Disney's copyright extensions... cannot have Green Mickey Mouse cartoons copied!!!

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Joke not a joke.

        Minor technical details aside, speed of light, food, oxygen and so on - largely because experts are worthless and just sneer, we should pre-empt an alien lawsiut by firing off all our own lawyers now. Via any form of rocket type device into the general direction of Alpha Centauri.

        We should probably also broadcast a galactic apology because some of the buggers are likely to survive.

  9. tip pc Silver badge

    Anyone wonder where static comes from

    We normally dismiss static as being generated by random natural events like lightning or a dodgy alternator etc, maybe it’s noise from alien planets or activities?

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Anyone wonder where static comes from

      I understand that it is an echo of the big bang or something,

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Anyone wonder where static comes from

        Yup - Radio static is Cosmic Background Radiation which as you suggest is the remnant of the Bang of Bigness.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe proof will be more physical ?

    Given our own trajectory of technological advance, how long before we can push a few planets around to make a clearly artificial orbit detectable from another solar system ? Centuries ?

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