I woke up this morning to see this on my Twitter feed:
An international team of scientists from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is investigating mysterious signal spikes emitting from a 6.3-billion-year-old star in the constellation Hercules — 95 light years away from Earth. The implications are extraordinary and point to the possibility of a civilization far more advanced than our own.
Let’s check out the Search for Extraterrestrial Life in the Universe (SETI) Twitter feed:
HD 164595, a solar system a few billion years older than the Sun but centered on a star of comparable size and brightness, is the purported source of a signal found with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, at the northern foot of the Caucasus Mountains. This system is known to have one planet, a Neptune-sized world in such a very tight orbit, making it unattractive for life. However, there could be other planets in this system that are still undiscovered.
The signal seems to have been discussed in a presentation given by several Russian astronomers as well as Italian researcher, Claudio Maccone, the chair of the International Academy of Astronautics Permanent SETI Committee. Maccone has recently sent an email to SETI scientists in which he describes this presentation, including the signal ascribed to star system HD 164595.
Could it be a transmission from a technically proficient society?
We’ll get to the probability of that being the case in a second. But can we pause in the interim and acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, THIS IS A BIGGER STORY THAN HUMA ABEDIN AND ANTHONY WEINER??!!
All I’m saying, CNN, is that Michael Grunwald’s sense of perspective is better than yours:
Side note: It’s been a pretty exciting month as astronomy goes. There’s this signal that SETI is investigating. There’s also the discovery of the possibly habitable planet of Proxima b just around the corner from our solar system. These are the kinds of news stories that permit one to get a sense of perspective. To consider the possibility that not every nuance in this never-ending election cycle is worth pushing to the top of the news queue.
This holds true even though the probability of SETI finding something is pretty low. As SETI itself notes, any civilization in that solar system could not be responding to a signal from Earth, since nothing this planet has broadcast could have physically reached them yet. Furthermore, it appears that this signal was only detected last year, once in 39 passes at that area of space. Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI institute in Mountain View, Calif., said, “The signal may be real, but I suspect it’s not ET.”
So the odds are excellent that this does not pan out and
we’ll never get to see Jodie Foster’s father in our lifetime we’ll soon return to normal election coverage. But it’s a low probability of a really friggin’ amazing event happening. That seems worth noting.
After close to two years of nonstop campaign speculation and coverage of this presidential election, I dare say our country needs more news stories like this one. Maybe, beginning in 2017, we can make astronomy great again.