The SETI Institute — the private organization that looks for signals of extraterrestrial life — has announced that it is investigating reports of an unusual radio signal picked up by Russian astronomers.
The signal was detected on a much wider bandwidth than the SETI Institute uses in its searches, and the strength of the received signal was “weak,” SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak wrote in a blog post.
It was unusual, both in its design and its “beam shape,” he says.
The signal might be coming from a solar system called HD 164595, some 94 light-years away from us, Shostak wrote. It seems to be coming from that direction, at any rate.
That system has a star similar to ours. There’s one known planet circling that star, about the size of Neptune and very close to the star. That planet doesn’t seem like a good candidate for hosting life, but other planets might also be in the system, Shostak wrote.
But there’s no guarantee that the signal is, in fact, coming from the system. And even if it is, that doesn’t mean it’s definitely coming from intelligent lifeforms.
Astronomer Nick Suntzeff told Ars Technica that there’s a “significant chance” it could be military — that is, coming from covert satellite communications instead of beaming to us from HD 164595.
And there are “natural sources” that could conceivably cause a wide-band signal like the one detected, Shostak told GeekWire.
Even the astronomers who first detected the signal, in May 2015, didn’t immediately alert the scientific community and ask for help confirming the signal. That suggests they were not persuaded this was extraterrestrial life reaching out, he says.
And Shostak wrote on SETI’s site that it’s “not terribly promising” that this is a message from alien lifeforms.
So now is not the time for either delight or panic, depending …