Was mysterious radio signal a message from aliens?

Alien hunters are intrigued by a mysterious radio signal that has been picked up from the direction of a star similar to the Sun. The sudden spike appears to have come from the vicinity of a star 95 light-years away in the constellation of Hercules.

Allen Telescope Array
Part of the Allen Telescope Array, built by the University of California at Berkeley, near San Francisco, which is used to listen for possible signals from E.T. Image credit: Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill via Wikimedia Commons.

The star, dubbed HD164595, is known to have at least one planet in orbit around it. It raises the intriguing, if remote, possibility that the signal, detected by a powerful radio telescope in Russia, could be a message deliberately broadcast by E.T.

The signal was recorded using the RATAN-600 radio dish at Zelenchukskaya, near the border with Georgia, and was described as “a strong signal in the direction of HD164595” by the observatory. It’s existence was first highlighted by the website Centauri Dreams.

They have kept the detection a secret since it was made on 15 May last year. But teams involved in SETI – the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence – began attempting to listen for more signals over the weekend using the Allen Telescope Array near San Francisco,and another instrument in Panama.

And the discovery will be discussed at a SETI meeting during the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, in September.

Experts stress that there is not enough evidence to claim that the signal is a message from aliens, and it is highly likely to have been produced by electrical interference or a natural event on a more remote object in the Universe.

Radio signal
A chart recording of the spike in the signal received from the direction of HD 164595. Image credit: Bursov et al.

However, the researchers are calling for the permanent monitoring of star HD164595. It is the same size and type of star as our sun, but a couple of billion years older, at an age of 6.3 billion years. Its greater age means that any life there would have had longer to develop and become more advanced.

The discovery of a warm Neptune-sized planet, labelled HD164595b, around the star was confirmed last year by astronomers who detected it using a giant telescope at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France.

It is very possible that other, rocky planets exist in the same star system but are too small to have been observed yet with current technology.

Professor Tim O’Brien, associate director of Manchester University’s Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, is part of a UK team looking for evidence of E.T.

He told Skymania News: “This is interesting, although far more likely to be some sort of radio interference than extraterrestrials.

“What is key in these cases is to follow up as soon as possible, preferably simultaneously, with another telescope. Unfortunately this seems to have been detected over a year ago, so the trail is now cold.”

Experts agree that this is the ideal type of star to check out if you want to search for E.T.

Professor O’Brien said: “This star is like our sun and has at least one planet, so it is certainly worthy of targeting for SETI observation. Thousands of planets have been found in recent years orbiting other stars. Some are potentially habitable.

“Of course we have no idea if life exists on other planets, let alone wants to communicate. But if we don’t make an effort to look for such signals, then we risk missing out on what could be the most important discovery humans will ever make.”

If aliens did send the signal, then they would have to have been at least sufficiently advanced technologically to be able to use and store energy from their star – this classifies them as a Type I civilisation on the Kardashev scale.

This would have given them the power to beam the signal deliberately towards our Sun on the off-chance that there was intelligent life here. But if the signal was broadcast in all directions, it would have required more power, and the aliens would need to be a Kardashev Type II civilisation able to harness the star’s entire energy.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

One thought on “Was mysterious radio signal a message from aliens?

  • 08/30/2016 at 3:11 pm
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    If you’ll pardon the pun, Carl Sagan wrote the book on how events like these would more than likely unfold. If an intelligent alien species was sending a message out into space and perhaps even aimed at us, I’m sure they would take steps to ensure it stood out from background noise by transmitting it on an astronomically-associated frequency, hydrogen x pi, for example.

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