Have We Detected an Alien Signal? It’s Highly Doubtful

Aug 31, 2016

By Lee Billings

Based on breathless news reports from many prominent media outlets that should know better, this week’s biggest non-story in science is the discovery of a possible radio signal from talkative aliens elsewhere in the Milky Way. I’m here to tell you, alas, that anyone hoping for this to be the moment of First Contact with another galactic civilization is very likely to be disappointed.

It all started innocently enough, with a carefully worded blog post this past Saturday from the respected science journalist Paul Gilster. Gilster wrote about a message he had received from some SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers who reported a curiously powerful 3-second burst of radio waves  from a star less than 100 light-years away. The researchers, led by Nikolai Bursov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, couldn’t rule out the possibility that the signal was artificial, and were intrigued enough that they called for “permanent monitoring” of the star.

Gilster’s post ignited a firestorm of sensationalistic and credulous news coverage that is still blazing as I write this, burning through newspapers and websites to astound most everyone who encounters it. Soon, I predict, it will burn out—as these sorts of stories (almost) always do.


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2 comments on “Have We Detected an Alien Signal? It’s Highly Doubtful

  • I would think it extremely rude to send an undirected radio signal. It would be like going to an opera and standing up shouting your grocery list to everyone present. You must use directed (laser) signals, and encrypt/compress them so well you can barely distinguish them from noise.



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  • @OP – The researchers, led by Nikolai Bursov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, couldn’t rule out the possibility that the signal was artificial, and were intrigued enough that they called for “permanent monitoring” of the star.

    Fantacists and sensationalists, love authoritative statements which claim they couldn’t rule out the possibility of something or other!

    Gilster’s post ignited a firestorm of sensationalistic and credulous news coverage that is still blazing as I write this.

    Couldn’t rule out the possibility”, is promptly quoted as supporting evidence!
    (Where have we heard, “Atheists can’t rule out the {remotest} possibility of the existence of a non-intervening deist god”! – THEREFORE he exists!)

    Nothing new!
    Pulsars were claimed to be alien signals when they were first discovered!

    Journalists or SETI enthusiasts, with a negligible knowledge of science and sensationalist agendas, will frequently ask astronomers “if they can rule out ‘aliens-did-it’, as an explanation” of some unusual phenomena! – and then quote them –
    A bit like creationist attempts at explanations really!!!



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