Parkes radio telescope in Australia, one of the largest on Earth, has directed its focus toward the Sun’s proverbial next-door neighbor in the hope to detect signs of alien civilizations, if there’s any. The 210-feet massive telescope will now examine the planets orbiting the red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri as part of a $100 million mega project dubbed Breakthrough Listen.

Parkes happens to be the third telescope to have been employed by Breakthrough Listen. The other two are the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory in Northern California.

An artist’s rendition of Proxima b (via Wikicommon)

“The addition of Parkes is an important milestone,” billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner, founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives, which include Breakthrough Listen, said in a statement.

“These major instruments are the ears of planet Earth, and now they are listening for signs of other civilizations.”

For the uninitiated, Proxima Centauri happens to be the closest star to our Sun, located at a distance from 4.2 light years. In August 2016, astronomers confirmed the discovery of Proxima b, an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star in the so-called “habitable zone”.

A “habitable zone” around any star is the range of distances where liquid water can exist on an orbiting planet. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that the planet may have just the right condition to host life as we know it. Although, being in the habitable zone doesn’t necessarily mean that the Earth has a favorable condition for the emergence and evolution of life.

“The chances of any particular planet hosting intelligent life-forms are probably minuscule,” Andrew Siemion, director of the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Center, said in the same statement.

“But once we knew there was a planet right next door, we had to ask the question, and it was a fitting first observation for Parkes,” Siemion added. “To find a civilization just 4.2 light-years away would change everything.”


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