The search for alien life via the confirmation of a reportedly “strong signal” emanating from the direction of a star nearly 95 light years away is underway after Russian astronomers revealed its discovery this week. The signal from star HD 164595 is so strong — 11 Ghz — that the technology to create and send it over such a vast distance would mean the civilization was far more advanced than humanity, but scientists are cautioning that there may be other reasons for the signal.
Phys.org reported August 29 that the signal was detected last year by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia. Paul Gilster, who operates the Centauri Dreams website which covers peer-reviewed research on deep space exploration, broke the story after hearing a presentation from Italian astronomer Claudio Macon on the find. Gilster noted that the Russian astronomers were careful not to claim the signal was of alien manufacture.
“No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study.”
Gilster wrote, “But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target.”
The astronomical community was quick to heed the call, according to CNN. The SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute almost immediately turned the Allen Telescope Array in California toward HD 164595. Scientists there haven’t found a trace of the signal detected by the Russian telescope thus far, but, as senior astronomer Seth Shostak explained, the team hasn’t “yet covered the full range of frequencies in which the signal could be located. A detection, of course,” he added, “would immediately spur the SETI and radio astronomy communities to do more follow-up observations.”
METI (Messaging ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) International will be observing HD 164595 as well, searching for the signal from the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama. Astronomer Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, noted, “The signal from HD 164595 is intriguing because it comes from the vicinity of a sun-like star, and if it’s artificial, its strength is great enough that it was clearly made by a civilization with capabilities beyond those of humankind.”
“Working out the strength of the signal,” Gilster wrote, “the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization.”
Gilster was speaking to the Kardashev Scale, a method of classifying technological advancement developed by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. The Scale consists of three levels: Type I civilizations, which harness the resources of a planet; Type II civilizations, which appropriate the energies of their parent stars and planetary systems; and Type III civilizations, which are advanced enough to use the energy of their home galaxies.
For an alien civilization to produce such a “strong signal,” it would be at the level of technological advancement where it would be able to construct a Dyson sphere (a structure that could surround, collect, store, and distribute the energy of a star) around its parent star. Last year, such a construct — in this case, dubbed an “alien megastructure” — was posited as a possible answer to why Tabby’s Star (designated KIC 8462852) was dimming. More recently, according to Inquisitr, it was discovered that the star had undergone a dramatic shift of increased dimming, leaving scientists perplexed as to why. In another report from Inquisitr, a Dyson sphere was also suggested as a possibility when astronomers detected the strange disappearance of a star from a field of 290,000 stars.
But there might be a more mundane answer to the signal’s source.
Nick Suntzeff, a Texas A&M University astronomer, told Ars Technica, “If this were a real astronomical source, it would be rather strange.” He explained that there were high-energy astrophysical phenomena called “fast radio bursts” that have been detected but they were found to be measured at only a few gigahertz and lasting only 10 milliseconds or so. The signal detected by the Russian team lasted longer.
Suntzeff went on to say he would not be surprised if the signal from HD 164595 weren’t alien at all. He based his conclusion on the fact that the “strong signal” observation could be found in part of the radio spectrum used by the military.
“God knows who or what broadcasts at 11Ghz, and it would not be out of the question that some sort of bursting communication is done between ground stations and satellites,” he elaborated. “I would follow it if I were the astronomers, but I would also not hype the fact that it may be at SETI signal given the significant chance it could be something military.”
But some are calling the research and announcement “anti-scientific.” George Dvorsky at Gizmodo did just that, revealing that the news of the possible alien signal discovery was delivered via email.
Jill Tarter, of the SETI Institute, told Gizmodo, “This process contradicted the common sense protocols that we’ve tried to develop over the years, and was announced without ever seeing the signal again, without any other facility confirming it, or even being asked to try to do so before public announcement.”
Dvorsky wrote, “Bottom line: this freaky signal is probably not extraterrestrial in origin. Scientists pick up radio pulses like these all the time, but they rarely repeat (an important condition for verification), and they’re often produced by naturally occurring phenomenon, such as solar flares, the microlensing of a background source, an active galactic core, or even a satellite passing by.”
So, although it appears at first glance to be exciting news, the revelation of a 2015 telescope detection of a strong signal from space just might be much ado about nothing. Unfortunately, this means there likely won’t be a confirmation. Or the possibility of the first contact with aliens, regardless of where they might have been on the Kardashev Scale.
Besides, SETI might have a better opportunity finding signs of an alien civilization on Proxima b, the newly discovered planet orbiting red dwarf Proxima Centauri. As the Inquisitr reported, the exoplanet was found to be in the habitable zone and, if conditions were favorable in the past few billion years, just might have seen the emergence of alien life.
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