‘Mys­tery’ sig­nal from space is solved - It’s not aliens

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

MI­AMI: As­tronomers have fi­nally solved the mys­tery of pe­cu­liar sig­nals com­ing from a nearby star, a story that sparked in­tense pub­lic spec­u­la­tion this week that per­haps, fi­nally, alien life had been found. It hasn’t. The sig­nal, which has been for­mally named “Weird!” was in­ter­fer­ence from a dis­tant satel­lite.

Of course, as­tronomers said all along that ex­tra-ter­res­tri­als were quite far at the bot­tom of the list of pos­si­bil­i­ties for the sig­nals de­tected from Ross 128, a dim star known as a red dwarf some 11 light-years away. To ex­perts, the true mys­tery was that they couldn’t fig­ure out if the bursts were un­usual stel­lar ac­tiv­ity, emis­sions from other back­ground ob­jects, or in­ter­fer­ence from satel­lite communications.

“How­ever, many peo­ple were more in­ter­ested in the sig­nals as po­ten­tial proof of trans­mis­sions from an ex­trater­res­trial in­tel­li­gent civ­i­liza­tion,” wrote Abel Men­dez, di­rec­tor of the Plan­e­tary Hab­it­abil­ity Lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Puerto Rico at Arecibo in a blog post Fri­day, re­veal­ing the true na­ture of the sig­nals. Af­ter fur­ther fu­el­ing spec­u­la­tion by sum­mon­ing the world ex­perts in the hunt for life else­where in the uni­verse-The SETI Berke­ley Re­search Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-the team is­sued its con­clu­sion.

“We are now con­fi­dent about the source of the Weird! Sig­nal,” Men­dez wrote. “The best ex­pla­na­tion is that the sig­nals are trans­mis­sions from one or more geo­sta­tion­ary satel­lites.” The sig­nals only ap­peared around Ross 128 be­cause it is lo­cated “close to the ce­les­tial equa­tor where many geo­sta­tion­ary satel­lites are placed,” Men­dez added.

Study of peo­ple

He also re­leased the re­sults of an in­for­mal sur­vey that he had posted on his web­site, ask­ing peo­ple to weigh in on what they thought the source of the sig­nals was, and whether or not they were sci­en­tists well versed in the mat­ter. “Nearly 800 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in this in­for­mal sur­vey (in­clud­ing more than 60 as­tronomers),” he wrote. The whole group’s con­sen­sus was that the sig­nals were most likely com­ing from some story of stel­lar ac­tiv­ity, or some kind of as­tro­nom­i­cal phe­nom­e­non. Most peo­ple dis­counted the pos­si­bil­ity of ra­dio in­ter­fer­ence or in­stru­men­tal fail­ures, say­ing these were least likely. This, Men­dez ex­plained, was hardly a sci­en­tific ap­proach to the ques­tion.

“This is in­ter­est­ing since in the ab­sence of solid in­for­ma­tion about the sig­nal, most as­tronomers would think that these were prob­a­bly the most likely ex­pla­na­tion,” Men­dez wrote. Fur­ther­more, about one quar­ter of re­spon­dents said “the most likely ex­pla­na­tion of the sig­nal was that of a com­mu­ni­ca­tion with an Ex­trater­res­trial In­tel­li­gence (ETI),” he added.

“These re­sults re­flect the still high ex­pec­ta­tions the pub­lic main­tains on the pos­si­bil­ity of con­tact­ing ETI.” Still, all was not lost in these last few weeks of spec­u­la­tion and tu­mult. “The Plan­e­tary Hab­it­abil­ity Lab­o­ra­tory of the Uni­ver­sity of Puerto Rico at Arecibo made many new friends from this ex­pe­ri­ence,” Men­dez said, adding it had been a “great ex­pe­ri­ence of open sci­ence. The les­son here is that we all need to con­tinue ex­plor­ing and shar­ing re­sults openly. Some peo­ple pre­fer to only learn about the suc­cesses, but oth­ers pre­fer sci­ence in re­al­time, no mat­ter the end re­sult.”

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