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Cosmic Diary

Let’s be careful about this SETI signal

30 Aug 2016, 05:40 UTC
Let’s be careful about this SETI signal Contact (film)
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Several readers have contacted me recently about reports that a group of international astronomers have detected a strong signal coming from a distant star that could be a sign of a high-technology civilization. Here’s my reaction: it’s interesting, but it’s definitely not the sign of an alien civilization—at least not yet.
Here’s why:

The signal was first detected in May 2015 and has not repeated since. Unfortunately, although international protocols call for alerting the astronomical community to the detection of a mysterious signal, the observers chose not to do so. Sadly, their failure to observe this simple protocol likely hindered our ability to clarify exactly what caused the signal.
The signal was detected by an antenna that is very complex—and one that a colleague of mine who is a radio astronomer said could have mislabeled a terrestrial signal (i.e, one from a satellite or airplane) crossing the side lobes of the beam when the observation was made. In other words, the pointing quality of this antenna is so uncertain that it may have captured what we call a false or “parasite” signal.
HD 164595, the host star, is very similar to the sun (same color, size, and age). It’s ninety-one ...

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