Is there anyone else out there? That’s what people in search of alien life are frequently asking, and that’s what they may also be wondering right now, as scientists have been piqued by the “peculiar” Ross 128 signals, supposedly emanating from a red dwarf star located not too far away from Earth.
In a blog post from last week, Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, wrote that his team had been observing a number of red dwarf stars, in hopes of gleaning data on their radiation and magnetic properties, and possibly confirming some planets and other sub-stellar objects around them. The observations were conducted between April and May of this year, but it was two weeks after these observations when Mendez’s team discovered some “very peculiar signals” in the dynamic spectrum data from the star codenamed Ross 128.
The signals, as Mendez further noted, are not local radio frequency interferences, and unique to Ross 128, as there weren’t any similar observations recorded in the other red dwarf stars. He added that there might be three possible scenarios that could explain the origin of the signals — they could be Type II solar flare-like emissions, they could be emanating from another object in Ross 128’s field of view, or they could simply be bursts from a high-orbit satellite. However, Mendez also wrote that each of these scenarios have some factors that may eliminate them as sources of origin for the Ross 128 signals.
“For example, Type II solar flares occur at much lower frequencies and the dispersion suggests a much farther source or a dense electron field (e.g. the stellar atmosphere?). Also, there are not many nearby objects in the field of view of Ross 128 and we have never seen satellites emit bursts like that, which were common in our other star observations.”
As many have interpreted the Ross 128 signals as a possible sign of alien life, Mendez stressed that this is “at the bottom of many other better explanations.”
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According to Popular Mechanics, Ross 128 is located approximately 11 light-years away from Earth, and observations dated May 12 suggest that it is emanating radio signals at a higher frequency than what is expected to disperse from stars. As it is also an active flare star, that may be the most likely explanation behind the strange signals, but since the Ross 128 signals are so unusual, Mendez believes that it may be a “new class of stellar flare,” maybe the first of its kind observed in any star.
As for the possibility of the signals coming from alien life, Mendez was coy when discussing the theory to Popular Mechanics, not completely ruling it out despite his skepticism regarding the matter.
“We need to discard all other possibilities before jumping to the aliens conclusion, but so far there is no way to tell.”
Regardless whether the signals are a sign of alien life or not, Mendez did promise some new findings in an update at the bottom of his original blog post. According to this update, his team had “successfully” observed the Ross 128 signals on Sunday night, with the University of California-Berkeley Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Berkeley SETI) and the SETI Institute also helping out. Mendez hopes to have a further update by the end of the week, once all the information gleaned by the PHL and its partner observatories is thoroughly analyzed.
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