Radio signal stirs talk of extraterrestrials

Radio signal stirs talk of extraterrestrials


A curious radio signal picked up by a Russian telescope is probably not a transmission from an extraterrestrial civilization. Astronomers in California, however, are taking a second look anyway, the SETI Institute said in August 2016.

A group of Russian astronomers detected what appeared to be a non-naturally occurring radio signal in 2015 in the general location of a star system 94 light-years from Earth.

Their findings emerged after Italian researcher Claudio Maccone, chairman of the International Academy of Astronautics committee on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, told colleagues of a presentation he heard about the signal, according to Seth Shostak, a director at the SETI Institute.

“I don’t think we’re taking it terribly seriously,” Shostak said. “The Russians looked in this direction 39 times, and as best we can tell they found it once.”

Most likely, the radio signal was caused by terrestrial interference or a satellite, a common occurrence, Shostak said.

If the Russians thought they had a serious signal from an extraterrestrial, they also likely would have disclosed it sooner,
he said.

“They didn’t say anything about it for more than year. If we had found a signal, we’d check it out and call up other astronomers to check it out as well,” Shostak said.

Nevertheless, over several nights in August 2016, SETI astronomers used an array of radio telescopes in California to study the suspect star, HD 164595, which has one known planet in orbit.

The planet is about the size of Neptune, but it circles its star far closer than Mercury orbits the sun. HD 164595 could have other planets in orbit that are more suitably positioned to contain water, which is believed to be necessary for life.

So far, though, astronomers have not detected any unusual signals from the star, Shostak said.

“We have to be very careful not to get cynical about false alarms,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘Aw man, it’s just another case of interference,’ but that risks not paying attention when you should.”