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Planet orbiting star closest to Earth? Check.

Said planet approximately Earth’s size and within habitable zone? Check.

Radio signals coming in direction of system? Ch...

Wait, what?!

That’s right. You don’t need to wipe your eyes or defog your glasses. Through the Breakthrough Listen project, astronomers have picked up a signal that seems to be coming from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth (other than the sun), as initially reported by The Guardian on Dec. 18. Astronomers are researching the signal, trying to determine if it is from a terrestrial source — which right now is far more likely — or if it is extraterrestrial.

What are the chances that, in a galaxy with billions of stars spaced light years upon light years apart, a civilization in a similar technological phase would be right there on our doorstep, essentially our next-door neighbor?

In two words, astronomically improbable.

Most astronomers seem skeptical of the signal being extraterrestrial for several different reasons, one of which is the likelihood that it’s something caused by our own technology. The other chief reason is that there has gradually been more pessimism among the scientific community regarding whether the star’s Earth-sized planet, Proxima Centauri b, is actually habitable.

While the planet is in a favorable position from its star, Proxima Centauri itself is quite volatile. The red dwarf likely unleashes intense radiation against the atmosphere of the star, perhaps enough that it would render the planet uninhabitable.

But let’s play the “what if” game for a second.

What if a technologically similar civilization arose around our neighboring star?

What if they found a way to protect themselves from harmful radiation (domed cities, etc.)?

What if they know we are here and are trying to contact us?

And finally, what if this is the breakthrough? That first contact won’t be with a spaceship landing on the White House lawn, but, rather, a radio emission from our neighboring star?

How this unfolds will certainly be intriguing.

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Joe Malan is astronomy writer and presentation editor for the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at jmalan@enidnews.com.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Joe? Send an email to jmalan@enidnews.com.

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Entertainment Editor | Copy Editor | Astronomy Writer

Hi, I'm Joe. I've been with the Enid News & Eagle since June 2009. I design many of the pages you see each week in your newspaper. I love writing and talking about space, and I love listening to and writing about music as well.