The Green Bank Telescope in the Allegheny Mountains of W. Virginia is the the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.The Green Bank Telescope in the Allegheny Mountains of W. Virginia is the the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.The Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia captured 15 radio bursts coming from a strange source in outer space last weekend. (Photo: Jamiev_03/Flickr)

Scientists possibly heard aliens calling us last Saturday

More than a dozen radio bursts were heard from a mysterious source in the far reaches of our universe.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Aug. 26, scientists seeking signs of intelligent life in outer space got a wake-up call. They detected 15 brief but powerful radio pulses emanating from a mysterious and repeating source – known as FRB 121102 – far across the universe.

One theory is that these powerful laser bursts are being used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft. But don’t pop the cork off the champagne bottles just yet. While it’s possible it may be aliens, it could also be something exploding off a nearby star. Nonetheless, it’s exciting.

The discovery was all part of the Breakthrough Initiatives led by Russian philanthropist Yuri Milner with help from physicist Stephen Hawking and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Time magazine selected Avi Loeb, a graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, as one of the 25 most influential people in space. (Photo: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Gazette)

Avi Loeb, the Israeli-born chair of the Harvard Astronomy Department, has been tasked with leading part of the Breakthrough Initiatives. “It would be the most important effect that science can have on society, if we find evidence for another civilization,” he told From The Grapevine.” That’s what makes this question, ‘Are we alone?’ the most important question in science.”

Loeb, who has written more than 500 scientific papers, devised some of the plans for seeking alien life while on vacation at a goat farm in Israel. “I basically sat at 6 a.m. in the morning, working on this presentation, with my back to the wall of this office, looking at the goats that were just born the day before, and contemplating the first realistic plan to send a spacecraft to the nearest star,” he recalled. “And I’m sure that the owner of that goat farm never imagined that this would happen.”

It seems a rural setting is the perfect place to contemplate life on other planets. This week’s discovery happened near the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia at the Green Bank Telescope. It’s the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope and the world’s largest land-based movable structure.

What makes the location so distinct is that it is part of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 mile area where all radio transmissions are either limited or banned outright, so the telescope can function properly. In order to hear alien calls, it’s got to be extremely quiet. The town of Green Bank is one of the only places in America where cell phones and Wi-Fi is banned. People who are electrosensitive – meaning they get headaches when they’re surrounded by microwaves, cell towers and the like – travel to Green Bank to get respite. It’s a town where high tech meets a 1950s lifestyle:

After hearing the bursts over the weekend, the scientists gathered the data and reported the news in what’s known as an “Astronomer’s Telegram,” dated Sep. 1. Their goal was to get the information out there now, while they spend the next few months putting together a more thorough article for a scientific journal.

Andrew Siemion, who is working on the project, said the findings are of great importance. “Whether or not fast radio bursts turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, [we’re] helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the universe around us.”

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