Over the last several days, I’ve seen a lot of excitement about a particular result of the SETI search. Scientists observed a signal from the direction of a star called HD 164595, which is about the size of our sun, and “only” 95 light years away. It’s also known to have a non-Earth-like planet in orbit around it; maybe there are some nice rocky planets in the habitable zone, as well?
In case you were curious, here’s the “message”:
It was a burst of energy significantly larger than the fuzzy noise seen in their usual observations. It happened once. It’s also a lot of energy to abruptly emerge from the neighborhood of a star, and that’s interesting in itself. The scientists involved are recommending that we keep an eye on that star — and I agree that we might learn something from that.
But it’s not likely to be an alien civilization trying to talk to us. That ought to be at the bottom of everyone’s list of possibilities. Even Seth Shostak has nothing but sensible interpretations.
This is a bit of a puzzling story, as the Russians found this signal a year ago or so, but just didn’t let others know. That’s not good policy, as what you really want is confirmation at another telescope, but… Is it real? The signal may be real, but I suspect it’s not ET. There are other possibilities for a wide-band signal such as this, and they’re caused by natural sources (or even terrestrial interference).
I just did a quick calculation of how much wattage they’d need to wield from 94 light-years (I think that’s the distance) in order to produce the apparently received signal, and that would be a big utility bill, even if they were directing the transmission (as opposed to broadcasting equally in all directions).
What I find odd is all the sites talking about inferring Kardashev levels from the size of the burst. The Kardashev scale is a science-fictiony estimate of the amount of energy available to a civilization: we’re at Kardashev 0; it would take a Kardashev 1 civilization able to tap energy sources equivalent to the entire amount of energy falling on their planet from their star to send a signal aimed directly at us; and it would take a Kardashev 2 civilization to produce an expanding sphere of signal nonspecifically propagating in all directions.
It seems to me that that is all an argument against this being communication from aliens. That one little blip took a greater amount of energy than our entire society can produce. It’s reasonable to argue that a more advanced civilization could have access to even more energy, but then you’d have to argue that super-advanced highly technological aliens then used their vast power to send one uninformative short blat of power outward. This would only make sense if the planet were inhabited by an entire species of privileged frat-boy types who thought it hilarious to fart at the universe.
That isn’t interesting. I’d be more enthusiastic if this were a novel natural phenomenon.
Duth Olec says
Maybe that one uninformative short blat of power is actually a highly-advanced society wiping itself out in a giant destructive one-shot annihilating explosion from a giant world war.
No doubt a result of their equivalent of Donald Trump coming to power.
Or French soldiers trying to convince us of our fragrant father and maternal rodent lineage.
Ah, perhaps the civilisation in question has mastered cold fusion and is thus able to easily meet the power requirements. And because they’re hoping for a reply, they have encoded all the necessary information to duplicate their achievement in that signal, along with all the boiler-plate stuff like about science, culture, etc.
One slight hitch: The code is so sophisticated it takes an equally advanced civlisation to decipher the message. At this point the receiver already has a transstellar communications device and cold fusion to run everything from the common laserpointer to the local death star. So they’ll look at the signal and say to themselves, ‘Oh, look here, this bit looks like the cold fusion equation. Bit basic, isn’t it?’ Hence the response is probably going to be something among the lines of a very sarcastic, ‘Yes, we already knew that, thanks!‘, which is why most alien civilisations are not currently on speaking terms.
Thus my theory solves the mystery of the signal and the Fermi Paradox all in one go. Elegant, no?
Duth, surely nothing as stupid & ignorant as Trump the Chump could come to power elsewhere in our galaxy? That implies an astronomically stupid & ignorant electorate.
Becca Stareyes says
This is making my general education science course a lot more interesting: I have recent examples to talk about science in the news.
(And, yeah, I’m far more interested in explaining the process of ‘we see a weird thing, how do we identify it’ because it teaches a lot about science in a frame my students are invested in.)
I didn’t read that the signal was as much the “result of the SETI search,” but a random detection by the RATAN-600. Do note that Seth Shostak is a senior scientist with SETI and he’s not very impressed with the event. But leave it to science journalism to create an exciting story replete with science fiction speculations.
By the way, this isn’t the first unusual stellar detection to get an alien intelligence interpretation in the press in recent weeks. The star designated KIC8462852, aka Tabby’s Star, exhibits some unusual light spectra properties. The press hoisted up their Kardashev levels and built a Dyson Sphere to explain the phenomena. SETI scientists looked at the star for several weeks and found nothing to write home about.
Remember that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.
-variously attributed to JBS Haldane, or Arthur Eddington
fusilier, who’s in an extremely cynical mood, right now, after having three different adjuncts decide they wouldn’t do labs this semester
YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith says
I’m thinking it is the energy signal from the destruction of Alderaan. Soon they’ll be seeing two more, even bigger, spikes.
Reginald Selkirk says
Civilizations are graded on their Kardashian level. A higher number of Kardashians indicates a lower level of civilization.
Calculating the energy necessary to produce the signal when you have not yet ruled out terrestrial sources of interference is a fool’s task. It should be obvious to anyone who might be making such a calculation that a nearby source of interference would not need to have the same energy level as a source located at a distant star.
Actually, as far as I’m concerned ” an entire species of privileged frat-boy types who thought it hilarious to fart at the universe” is pretty interesting.
UnknownEric the Apostate says
It was that planet’s Casey Kasem with HD 164595’s Top 40 Super-Long Distance Dedication. It may have come after a goddamn uptempo number.
Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
Personally I really hope there isn’t an alien species capable of interstellar travel anywhere near us. They might look at Earth and reasonably conclude to end humanity painlessly but terminally in hopes that the next species to develop to more technologically advanced levels may be a bit less bloodthirsty.
It took me a few minutes to find that the source was, indeed, terrestrial:
“We, indeed, discovered an unusual signal. However, an additional check showed that it was emanating from a Soviet military satellite, which had not been entered into any of the catalogs of celestial bodies,” Ipatov said.
If this is the star the mormons think is Gods’ home, ma ybe he is responding to some event that took place 95 years ago. Did something interesting happen in 1911?
Rob Grigjanis says
felicis @13: I think Ipatov was talking about a signal his group observed in the Soviet era. But yes, it’s probably something similar.
The Daily Mash has worked it out.
“Signal from distant star an invitation to LinkedIn” http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/science-technology/signal-from-distant-star-an-invitation-to-linkedin-20160830113017
Given that we have no examples of intelligent life, I’m not sure why we’re looking out there.
felicis — Thanks for the link. Terrestrial source was immediately the most likely explanation from the astronomy and even SETI community as far as I could tell.
Read the linked item again. Felicis’s quote does refer to a previous event, but:
slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says
umm, to correct your math: it would have to be 190 years to respond to an Earth event. As in, it would take 95 yrs for light from the event to get there. Their response then takes 95 years to get back to us.
so let’s see 2015-190 = 1825 http://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1825
one event of that year: RPI founded (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) [Albany’s precursor to MIT]
Birger @ 14, it would’ve had to be 190 years ago if it happened here on Earth, so it would’ve been around 1826.
Ahahhhhh! Got it! Darwin must’ve been formulating his theory of evolution by natural selection then. Enough to blow the mind of any god, or totally destroy them, even.
Rob Grigjanis says
KG @18: What exactly did I write that you think requires a re-reading on my part? Ipatov was (obviously, I thought) talking about a past observation. Felicis presented Ipatov’s quote as referring to the recent signal. Sotnikov said it was “most likely a terrestrial disturbance”; in other words “probably something similar” to the earlier observation.
On that note, bear in mind the star has been checked since then. 39 times, and the signal has not been detected a second time.
Bear in mind that this is Gawd! He doesn’t need to put up with no detection delay. Hell, he could have sent it on its way 97 years ago to coincide with something on Earth two years ago. Because Gawd!
UnknownEric the Apostate says
Mötley Crüe doesn’t do encores, man.
In 1825, well we have the Decembrist revolt. Quite exciting for a lot of people, career changing for some.
They get spurious signals like that fairly often, as was mentioned, from terrestrial sources, satellites, stellar events and microlensing of more distant sources.
Every once in a while, something new is discovered from one of those odd signals.
The only surprising thing here is the intense press reaction to a relatively common event, treating it as if it’s never happened before, when there have been years where four or five such events have occurred.
What *usually* happens is, someone detects an odd signal, other observatories try to confirm the measurement, then a theory as to what caused it (if it’s detected by other facilities, if not, it goes into the circular file (OK, it just gets filed away)).
Or alternatively, it’s a General Systems Unit playing a prank, “Hey, wanna watch the monkeys scramble around a bit?”, but I doubt it. The General Contact Unit, Transient Atmospheric Phenomenon indicated to me that no bored GCU’s are currently in the area.
Kardashev levels are surely irrelevant for a 2-second burst. Even we primitives know how to store energy in capacitors and release it for a short burst with a very high peak power. They might have a policy of pinging likely planets at regular intervals in hopes of a response.
consciousness razor says
Hmm, it is probably loud enough. If only their songs were two seconds long….
thanks, felicis @13. i came here to point that out too, and i’m glad someone beat me to it.
so, why are we still talking about it?
I know I’m being immature but deep down there’s a childish desire in me for the signal from HD 164595 to be this: