Suspicious Signal Spotted In Space -- Three Times
For now, scientists connected with the Search For
Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) call it an enigma. But
they're certainly leaving open the possibility that the radio
signal they're hearing from 1,000 light years away could be
artificial -- a radio postcard from another species.
New Scientist Magazine reports the radio telescope in Arecibo,
Puerto Rico has seen this signal three times. Not only that, but
it's getting stronger. Researchers are quick to point out that this
could simply be a new kind of astronomical phenomenon or even a
glitch in the telescope itself. But it appears to be the best
candidate yet for a signal from another planet.
"It’s the most interesting signal from SETI@home," said Dan
Werthimer, a radio astronomer at the University of California,
Berkeley (UCB) and the chief scientist for SETI@home, in an interview
with New Scientist. "We’re not jumping up and down, but we
are continuing to observe it."
on millions of personal computers as a screen saver. It sifts
through the plethora of signals captured by Arecibo.
The suspicious signal has a name and a frequency. It's
SHGb02+14a and it's located at roughly 1420 MHz. It emanates from a
point between the constellations Aries and Pisces. The problem is,
there's nothing in that region closer than 1,000 light years from
The frequency itself is one of the most common where hydrogen --
the basic element of the universe -- can absorb and transmit
"We are looking for something that screams out
‘artificial’," UCB researcher Eric Korpela, who
completed the analysis of the signal in April, told New Scientist
Magazine. "This just doesn’t do that, but it could be because
it is distant."
On the other hand, Korpela told the magazine, SHGb02+14a doesn't
appear to be a naturally occurring signal or interference. Still,
that doesn't automatically mean it's ET phoning long distance.
"Perhaps there is an object on the ground near the telescope
emitting at about this frequency," Korpela told interviewers.
Confirming that would be the easiest part of the entire exercise --
just use a different telescope to listen for the signal.
It could be a hoax, but Korpela doubts it. "As I can’t
think of any way to make a signal like this, I can’t think of
any way to fake it."
director David Anderson is anything but convinced. Still, he's
definitely interested. "It’s unlikely to be real but we will
definitely be re-observing it."
Jocelyn Bell Burnell of the University of Bath agrees that the
signal definitely bears watching. She should know. Her discovery of
pulsing radio signals in 1967 first appeared to be hails from
another planet. Instead, it turned out that she had made the
first-ever sighting of a pulsar.
"If they can see it four, five or six times," she told New
Scientist, "it really begins to get exciting."