Fri. Mar 31st, 2023
The RATAN-600 radio telescope, in Zelenchukskaya, Russia.
Enlarge / The RATAN-600 radio telescope, in Zelenchukskaya, Russia.

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It remains only the remotest chance that astronomers have just found evidence of extraterrestrial, intelligent life. Nevertheless, in the community of astronomers and other scientists who use radio telescopes to scan the skies for beacons of life, there is a lot of excitement about a new signal observed by a facility in Russia.

According to Paul Gilster, author of the Centauri Dreams website, Italian astronomer Claudio Maccone and other astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence have detected “a strong signal in the direction of HD164595.” HD 164595 is a star with a mass of 0.99 suns located about 95 light-years from Earth, with an estimated age of 6.3 billion years. The system is known to have at least one planet, HD 164595 b, which is similar in size to Neptune and orbits its star in 40 days. There may also be other planets in the system.

The observation was made with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, in southern Russia, Gilster reports. He cautioned that the evidence is very preliminary:

No one is claiming that this is the work of an alien civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would have a strength only possible for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow-beam signal aimed at our solar system, it would have power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of some form of noise cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target.

More information may follow soon. According to Gilster, the discovery and work to understand its origins will be discussed at a SETI committee meeting at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Ars contacted Nick Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas A&M University, to gain insight into what this signal at 11 Ghz might be if it wasn’t extraterrestrial in origin. “If this were a real astronomical source, it would be kind of strange,” Suntzeff told Ars. While there are mysterious, high-energy astrophysical phenomena called “rapid radio bursts” that are observed at a few gigahertz, they only last about 10 milliseconds (this event lasted longer). Unfortunately, he said, no information is given about signal strength as a function of frequency.

Suntzeff added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the signal was terrestrial in origin, as it was observed in part of the radio spectrum used by the military. “God knows who or what is broadcasting on 11 Ghz, and it wouldn’t be out of the question that some sort of bursting communication is happening between ground stations and satellites,” he said. “I’d follow it if I were the astronomers, but I also wouldn’t hype the fact that it might be a SETI signal given the high probability it could be something military.”

By akfire1

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