A mysterious extraterrestrial signal emanating from an ancient solar system kept secret by Russia has sparked an investigation by the SETI Institute into the possibility it was sent by super-intelligent life forms.
Yes, you heard that correctly: An extraterrestrial signal from another solar system is being investigated by SETI in the hopes it is a cosmic communication from really really smart alien beings.
The otherworldly blip was first detected by Russian astronomers in May 2015, yet in a bizarre break with established protocol, they’ve only just alerted the nonprofit, and other interstellar investigators, now. In response, SETI, aka the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence, swung the Allen Telescope Array (ATA)—a team of 42 radio telescope dishes in Hat Creek, Calif.—in the direction of the alien signal’s source, a solar system several billion years older than the sun called HD 164595.
Although HD 164595 is known only to have one Neptune-sized planet that we know of, scientists speculate the system could host other worlds yet undiscovered.
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If in fact the mystery message did originate from that particular solar system—something the ATA is scanning the skies to verify—SETI’s Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak explains in a recent analysis that the extraterrestrial beings who sent it would be uber-intelligent, and would have developed technologies far beyond mankind’s wildest dreams.
To begin with, says Shostak, HD 164595 is 94 light years away. These alien creatures wouldn’t have any reason to have targeted us, specifically, since any TV or radar communications we’ve sent out to the outer depths of the universe haven’t even reached their solar system yet.
“There are two interesting cases,” speculates Shostak. “They [the alien beings] decide to broadcast in all directions. Then the required power is 1020 watts, or 100 billion billion watts. That’s hundreds of times more energy than all the sunlight falling on Earth, and would obviously require power sources far beyond any we have.
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Second, he continues:
“They aim their transmission at us. This will reduce the power requirement, but even if they are using an antenna the size of the 1000-foot Arecibo instrument [at 96 feet in length, the world’s largest single dish radio telescope, located in Puerto Rico] they would still need to wield more than a trillion watts, which is comparable to the total energy consumption of all humankind.’
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SETI’s search amid the enigmatic HD 164595 has only just begun, and it’s uncertain if the unearthly call will ever be detected again. Nonetheless, it is quite astonishing, and has had the perhaps unintended effect of millions of us learning about SETI, the perplexing realm of HD 164595, and wondering if it is indeed the latest “What’s up?” from another curious martian species. Or us, our highly evolved ancestors, in the future. Or simply neighboring cousins from those “extraterrestrials” already living among us.
The search, therefore, for now, dear friends, continues.
Main Art: An extraterrestrial signal from an ancient world kept secret by Russia is being investigated by SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute. (Photo: An artist’s impression of the recently discovered Earth-like exoplanet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. Credit: SETI Institute, ESO/M. Kornmesser)