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.