A team of astronomers from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have picked up “strange signals” emanating from a red dwarf star 11 light years away. Some are saying this is just another piece of data proving there’s life outside of earth, but experts aren’t so sure.
On May 12 of this year, the team observed mysterious radio signals emanating from a star called Ross 128. “We realized that there were some very peculiar signals in the 10-minute dynamic spectrum that we obtained from Ross 128 (GJ 447 in the constellation Virgo), observed May 12,” wrote professor Abel Mendez, planetary astrobiologist and director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico in a blog post. The “very peculiar” pulses appear to be unique to the red dwarf, scientists say, with observations of similar nearby stars showing no similar behavior.
Mendez says that the next start that underwent these same tests was Barnard’s Star.
Observations of both stars were concluded Sunday, July 16, and the data will be available soon, according to Mendez’s recent Twitter post.
— Prof. Abel Méndez (@ProfAbelMendez) July 17, 2017
Mendez’s blog post continued saying, “…signals consisted of broadband quasi-periodic non-polarized pulses with very strong dispersion-like features. We believe that the signals are not local radio frequency interferences (RFI) since they are unique to Ross 128 and observations of other stars immediately before and after did not show anything similar.” But Mendez doesn’t believe that extra-terrestrial life is at the forefront of explanations for the mysterious radio signals the team detected. “In case you are wondering,” he says in the blog post, “the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations.”
But if Mendez is confident these are not signals from aliens, what does he believe the radio signals could be? Right now, there are only three potential explanations. They could be emissions similar to a Type II solar flare; emissions from another object in the field of view of the star, or they are coming from a high-orbit satellite. But Mendez claims in his post that each of these potentialities comes with its own issues.
He says, “For example, Type II solar flares occur at much lower frequencies and the dispersion suggests a much farther source or a dense electron field (e.g. the stellar atmosphere?). Also, there are not many nearby objects in the field of view of Ross 128 and we have never seen satellites emit bursts like that, which were common in our other star observations.”
Speaking to Newsweek, Méndez said he hopes to have a definite answer as to what is causing the signals by the end of this week or early next week. “We’re looking to announce as early as possible,” he said.
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