Report of Possible Alien Signal Sets SETI Community Abuzz but Many Scientists Remain Skeptical

"Not a significant discovery," one SETI researcher says of mysterious signal.

ByABC News
August 30, 2016, 4:14 PM

— -- News of a possible extra-terrestrial signal detection sent social media into a frenzy this week, but scientists remain skeptical that the signal picked up by a Russian radio telescope actually indicates alien life.

Paul Gilster reported on Saturday of a "strong signal" from the direction of HD164595, a star about 95 light years away from Earth in the constellation Hercules, on his respected deep space exploration blog.

The signal was actually picked up in May of 2015 by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia, according to Gilster. But it wasn't until last week that researchers circulated a paper about the signal.

"No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study," Gilster wrote for Centauri Dreams.

Based on the strength of the signal, "researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization," Gilster noted, referring to a type of beacon that transmits in all directions, with the intent, in theory, of making contact with alien civilizations.

The Kardashev scale measures how technologically advanced a civilization is, and Kardashev Type II ranking would indicate the civilization is more advanced than our own. News of the promising signal sent social media into a tizzy.

The discovery is scheduled to be discussed at a meeting during the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sept. 27, Gilster added.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California, told ABC News today that the institute was investigating the signal with its Allen Telescope Array in northern California, and had swung it in the direction of HD164595 on Aug. 28 but did not detect any signal.

Shostak said he has no idea why it is only being reported on now. "Total supposition, but it could be they may have thought they just saw it once so they won't get too excited. That's me guessing," Shostak said.

Shostak added on the institute's website that it was unusual that this kind of discovery would not be shared immediately with the scientific community.

"One particularly noteworthy thing about this discovery is the fact that the signal was apparently observed in May, 2015 (it seems that this was the only time in 39 tries that they saw this signal). The discoverers didn’t alert the SETI community to this find until now, which is not as expected," Shostak wrote. "According to both practice and protocol, if a signal seems to be of deliberate and extraterrestrial origin, one of the first things to do is to get others to attempt confirming observations. That was not done in this case."

Shostak said that the institute is still looking into the signal, but that he does not think it is a significant discovery.

"We looked again at the source last night using our antennas, the Allen Telescope Array, and nothing," Shostak told ABC News. "The Russians themselves looked 39 times and only saw it once."

Shostak added that there is a long list of other possibilities that could have caused the signal.

"It could have been a military or a commercial aircraft with radar," Shostak said, "or telecommunication satellites. The laundry list for things that could fool you is not very short."

"I think the fact that we didn't find it last night has me convinced that this is not a significant discovery," Shostak said. "If you find the cure for cancer but you only cure one patient, then you would not say you have found the cure for cancer."