This week, a team of Russian astronomers reported they detected an unusually strong radio signal coming from a star 94 light-years away. But the news doesn’t mean that they have found aliens. SETI researchers explained the hunt for ET is often filled with false positives.
Nevertheless, the finding is interesting for other reasons. For instance, since the star is located about 100 light-years from us, this means that it lies basically in our cosmic backyard. And if there is indeed someone there, it would take 180 years for our messages to reach them.
Furthermore, the star dubbed HD164595 is very similar to our sun in terms of size and chemical makeup. And since it is slightly older than our host star it could provide precious clues on our solar system formation.
Also, the said star is located in a system that features a Neptune-like planet. And the system may host several planetary candidates. According to scientists, the planet is too warm to host life. But its moons may be habitable. So, the system is interesting enough by itself.
However, the entire media has turned its attention to the lone star because of a radio signal that may signal the presence of an alien civilization. Russians detected the signal last year, but they needed 15 months to make it public.
Once it became public, the SETI Institute asked its researchers to analyze the star with help from the Allen Telescope Array. Unfortunately, the SETI analysis revealed nothing, but the institute plans to scan all frequencies in which the radio signal may lie.
Canadians at the METI Institute promised to lend a hand and keep a watch on the star from an optical telescope in Panama. The team hopes to detect any powerful beams of light aliens may try to use to communicate with us.
SETI, however, recently advised the public not to get overly excited over the new signal. The Institute’s Jill Tarter explained how a mishap flared up people’s imaginations worldwide. Reportedly, Tarter sent Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster an e-mail titled “Candidate SETI Signal Detected” which detailed the discovery. But without asking permission, Gilster made it public.
Tarter later said that Gilster’s actions contradicted “common sense protocols.” Under SETI’s protocols, scientists must detect a radio pulse at least twice before making it public. This is probably why, Russian scientists waited 15 months before publishing a study on the findings.
We Live in A Noisy World
SETI explained that its investigators pick up false signals all the time. But these false positives almost never repeat. Some common source for the misleading pulses is natural phenomena such as solar storms, energetic galactic core, satellites whizzing by etc.
In 2015, a group of Australian astronomers took the radio signal from a microwave oven for a SETI signal. Tarter added that even Pokémon Go players or our Internet infrastructure can generate false signals.
“We live in a noisy world—even at higher frequencies,”
The researcher also noted that the Russians used a highly unreliable instrument to detect the signal: the RATAN-600. Since the instrument’s sidelobes are quite “squirrely,” in Tarter’s own words, it can pick up signals coming from many directions.
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