Scientists begin hunt for intelligent extraterrestrial life around 'very strange star'

Scientists begin hunt for intelligent extraterrestrial life around 'very strange star'

 John B. Carnett/Bonnier Corporation via Getty Images.

Scientists began using one of the largest telescopes on the planet last night to closely observe a "very strange star" some 1,480 light-years away for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Researchers with the Breakthrough Listen project, a $100 million research venture launched last year and backed by physicist Stephen Hawking, started using Earth's largest fully steerable radio telescope to try and detect signals of extraterrestrial life from a star known as KIC 8462852, and often referred to as "Tabby's star," after Tabetha Boyajian, a physics and astronomy professor at Louisiana State University who first reported the bizarre phenomenon around the star in September 2015.

"It is basically a very weird star, it is a very strange star. What this star showed is something very, very large and very, very dark appeared to be passing between us and the star. It's not a planet because we know that it is not round and it doesn't orbit at a fixed period," Andrew Siemion, director of the University of California Berkeley SETI Research Center and co-director of Breakthrough Listen, said of Tabby's star in a video the group released explaining their new project.

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Tabby's star has attracted the attention of scientists over the past year because of its irregular dimming, which has caused some researchers to speculate that it hosts a "highly advanced civilization capable of building orbiting megastructures to capture the star’s energy," researchers with U.C. Berkeley's SETI Research Center said in a statement.

Researchers will use the Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, the largest fully steerable radio telescope on the planet, for eight hours every night for the next two months to monitor Tabby's star.

Siemion added in a statement that "it’s the largest, most sensitive telescope that’s capable of looking at Tabby’s star given its position in the sky.”

The likelihood that the unusual dimming from the star is being caused by an advanced alien civilization harnessing the star's energy is "a one in a billion chance," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at Berkeley SETI said in a statement. "But nevertheless, we’re going to check it out.”

“But I think that ET, if it’s ever discovered, it might be something like that," Werthimer added. "It’ll be some bizarre thing that somebody finds by accident."

It will take more than a month for scientists to analyze the data for patterns in the radio emissions and know the results from the observations, researchers said.