Monday, May 25, 2009

SETI's 'best candidate yet for contact by intelligent aliens'

Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio telescope has been picking up unexplained radio signals from the same patch of space since 2003. (New Scientist) Many of the signals have disappeared, but one keeps getting stronger.

The signal, named SHGb02+14a, originates from an area (between the constellations Pisces and Aries) where there are no know stars (or planets) for at least 1000 light years. Could we be picking up the signal from another civilization's deep space probe? An ancient distress signal from an alien space ship? Possibly. But it's more likely a previously undiscovered natural phenomenon, a glitch in the telescope or somebody playing a prank.

An interesting angle here is the frequency the radio signal is transmitted at, 1420 megahertz. That's the frequency hydrogen (the most common element) absorbs and emits energy, so some astronomers argue aliens would use 1420 megahertz signals to communicate their presence to other civilizations. SETI regularly scans this part of the radio spectrum.

5 comments:

Mike said...

What I find most disturbing is the lack of transparency that the SETI @ home folks are responsible for.

For example, SHGB02+14A has been known about for 6 years now, and the signal continues to baffle researchers. However, I'm not asking for a claim of an ET signal, far from it, as a matter of fact SETI should be downplaying everything until they know for sure.

What I'm talking about is the black hole of information in regard to the findings that they do have, possibilities they've eliminated, future plans, and the like. I personally spend $2400/year on electricity alone to run several computers for the SETI @ home project, and wrote a letter, much like an investor, to the organization. No response.

Surely after 6 years of listening to this signal alone, they could tell us something other than, "we don't know". How about mathematical details? How about current disposition and future actions based on the present findings? How about some kind of information outlet to explain and discuss the project's status quo?

None of this exists. As such, it becomes harder to fund such an endeavor.

pound360 said...

Sounds frustrating, Mike. Seems to run counter to what SETI@home is all about: crowd-sourcing their efforts. They ought to make as much data possible to as many people so we're more likely to get answers. Such an extraordinary discovery, life on another planet, is going to take such an extraordinary effort.

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Dave said...

I agree with Mike 100%. I too have been an on and off SETI volunteer for many years and have spent lots of my personal money and computing time crunching numbers for them. I am just as annoyed at their lack of transparency.

SETI is not very forthcoming with their information. You used to be able to view the best candidates, but they stopped updating the list. They don't give any real updates on what is happening, yet expect millions in donations each year. The exact location of SHGB02+14A isn't even well known making it impossible for anybody else to try and listen in and confirm the signal.

I'm not claiming a conspiracy or anything stupid like that. I just think that SETI is terrible at PR. If they want to attract loads of interest, volunteers, and donations they should be keeping us updated. At this stage whenever something interesting pops up you just never hear anything about it again.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.