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The recently leaked news about an intriguing, potentially extraterrestrial radio signal detected as part of the Breakthrough Listen project may not turn out to be “it”—the unequivocal sign of a technological species out there in our galaxy—but still offers a great opportunity for some reflection on the nature of cosmic life.

Some details of this curious narrowband hum at a frequency of around 982.002 MHz, and its apparent coincidence with the direction of Proxima Centauri, have been reported, and we’ll have to wait a little while longer for the full technical analysis to be presented. In the absence of any further insights the best that scientists can say for now is that this signal is of great interest, but we must assume that an explanation is much more likely to be mundane (or at least within the pantheon of recognizable, known phenomena) than a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence and agency.

Nonetheless, in hearing this news, one wonders whether this is what it will feel like when (and if) we eventually find evidence that we’re not alone in the cosmos. After all, 2020 has been a doozy of a year; a weird, horrifying branch of the human timeline that has so often felt like it was an alternate reality we would’ve done better to avoid. Why not add the discovery of other technological life to the mix? For that matter, why shouldn’t that discovery just sneak up on us in a comparatively ordinary fashion?

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