Most Important News of Your Day/Lifetime?

An international team of scientists from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is investigating mysterious signal spikes emitting from a 6.3-billion-year-old star in the constellation Hercules—95 light years away from Earth. The implications are extraordinary and point to the possibility of a civilization far more advanced than our own.

The safe bet is against but stranger things have happened.

Here and more information here.

Hat tip: Next Draft.


Stranger things have not happened.

You beat me to it. The probability that this is genuine is very very very low.!_signal People have been looking for anything further since 1977 and gotten nada.

On the contrary, their Earth base has been found.

This. If true this is the most important news in the history of mankind, I'd suggest.

And yet... how would the world change? My prediction that the reaction from the Liberals would be along the lines: "now everyone must acknowledge the truth of our ideology...". The reaction from the Conservatives: "I still don't believe it. Even if it's true, who cares?"

What's a bit worrisome if that the signal comes from a star system that's very close (100 light-years).

There would be immensely more public and private support for space exploration and related fields, I imagine.

And building a wall in space, of course. Make the ET's pay for it!

Though grass would still need to be mowed and watered, everything would change. Interstellar life - especially intelligent - would be an existential crisis for most of mankind as our views of reality would once and for all shift away from an Earth-centric one. Mankind would likely become obsessed with space exploration, even if using existing technology. Worldly events would appear both unimportant and critically important in ways different than previously thought. All forms of government would undergo rapid change to accommodate the new reality. In a generation the world would be vastly different than otherwise.

Mankind would likely become obsessed with space exploration, even if using existing technology.

Would they? Getting a signal means that they have to talk instead of visit, because given galactic timescales they'd be here already. And since they aren't the likely answer is because interstellar travel is impossible. Time to get comfortable on Earth.

Those aren't my views, BTW, but they could become dominant if we get a message.

I think short term there would be a lot of hullaballoo, and in the long run people would realize that it doesn't really change anything, and there's nothing we can do one way or another.

Are you so sure that under such a shock...

Well there is planet Krikkit

It certainly changed their culture.

The smart thing to do would be full throttle economic development akin to a global Meiji restoration. Liberal ideology seems to lead to economic stagnation.

Breaking... Breaking... Breaking... Breaking...

Cryptologists and linguists have decoded the message. The text follows...

"Attention Earthlings... We've just developed hyperdrive...
We're coming for visit! We'll probably be hungry when we arrive...

See you in 100 years!"

I can write books on how all the alien stuff is just a conspiracy to undermine the credibility of the one and only true religion.

Immediate defense expenditures needed!

First, we send missionaries to tell them about Jesus.

Those missionaries are far more likely to get off their backsides and try than anyone else is.

This is basically the premise of "The Sparrow", by Mary Doria Russell.

"The safe bet is against but stranger things have happened."

Science does not operate on bets and wagering.

The referenced "facts" offered to support this alleged important news --- are so vague and sparse as to immediately discredit anybody who circulates them.

I have a paper rejecting the idea science operates on bets and wagering with a 95% confidence interval.

What motivation would SETI have to circulate notions that weren't firmly grounded in facts?

The director of the SETI Institute is skeptical. The origin of the claim is a subdivision of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Russian sources > Nigerian email princes in terms of credibility.

Well, if you take the Resurrection, or some similar religious event, as literally true, it would qualify.

One word: cold fusion.

Remember the day that hit the news? What was it, '88 or so?

There are three kinds of engineers . . .

Not to be a pedant, but that's two words.

I think some linguists could disagree.

Only the cunning ones.

I'll see myself out....

There’s been no word of a sequel to HD 164595’s blip in the more than 15 months since it was recorded.

A single blip? Wake me up when they hear something that sounds like the Pappy O'Daniel Flour Hour.

Now imagine the collective horror of all non bluegrass fans when, and yes maybe if, that joyous event occurred.

Send more Chuck Berry!

That punchline is for a terrific joke

"[H]otter than Seattle's best restaurant". I recall the best line from some doctor show: "you can't live without a liver". I suppose not. Life on a planet that's hotter than Seattle's best restaurant? Not a chance.

That's the Neptune-sized planet that's orbiting every 40 days. And at a closer orbit than Mercury (which takes 88 days to orbit a similarly-massed star). The gravity/proximity combination make it unlikely for life.

Of course, where there is one big planet there are usually more smaller planets. However, while I'm not an expert on solar system formation, my last understanding was that while you needed a big planet to be a comet collector and clean up all the crap so life develops, if you have something this big this close to the star, it probably gobbled up all the mass that its "inner planets" would have. Any earth-like planets would be ~10AU or further.

Looking is always good, though. Might as well look here.

A species capable of building a transmitter of that amount of power is probably capable of building it in other star systems than its own.

What are you doing Mr. Krugman?

So SETI is still using Windows 98...

In the inevitable interim console yourself with:

Betteridge law of headlines in full force here.


How I hate the press release and handling of this story so far. Almost no details about the signal, just an immediate dive into wild speculation about the type of civilization that would produce it. What was the exact duration? Strength distribution across bandwidth? Detectable modulation? Anything?

At least the "Wow! Signal" came with a predefined set of criteria for what constituted something interesting, a frequency, and a graph of the signal strength over time.!_signal

Until there is more data, there should be precisely zero speculation about what kind of critters produced it. We've been fooled before.

It is the Vogons. Everyone knows to tune HD164595 for All Vogon Poetry All The Time (in HD). Vogon Poetry has multi-year gaps to build dramatic tension. Vogons also have livers.

Might I recommend last year's largely unread supposedly apolitical Hugo winner that was far more reactionary than most anyone seems to realize, Liu Cixin's "Three Body Problem" and its even more relevant sequel "The Dark Forest."

If there is intelligent extraterrestrial life you don't want to be found.

It appears to be a single peak of radio frequency radiation - there is no pattern to it that indicates intelligence. A problem with the measurement system or a natural process could have caused it.

Furthermore if aliens wanted to be heard, why send one single peak? Why not a series that counts out the prime numbers or some other unambiguous message?

This is being overhyped.


I would bet against this being aliens at 1000:1 against or maybe even more.

Even if we travel at 1/10th the speed of light, it would take more than 30 generations to get to this planet.

I don't think the people living on that generation ship would even remember why they left Earth to begin with.

And what happens if that new planet is uninhabitable do to reasons we cannot possibly comprehend?

I feel like we would spend centuries studying it and never actually send out a ship because we are too risk adverse.

Why would a civilization far more advanced than our own want to contact us ? They would be too advanced to want to play "god" with us ; may be minor nudges at best without revealing themselves .
If they were far more advanced , their signals may be beyond our capabilities to capture or grasp.

How can you know the motives of an advanced alien civilization? That's some pretty amazing hubris to think that you can accurately predict their likely reactions.

"An alien race would have my exact politics, only smarter."

1000 years to get there? You certainly don't want to send a spacecraft knowing that the technology is likely to improve at least 10% over the next century...


Interesting. I can see why scientists and nerds would be interested. For the rest of us it is a big ho-hum. We are never going there and they are never coming here.

Nerds at Vatican say it's no problem at all, but more fundamentalist christians would have to answer some questions

The problem with religions is that people see them as monolithic when in reality the scholars/monks are pretty intelligent people while backwater preachers are empowered bullies.

while backwater preachers are empowered bullies.

Empowered by whom, and bullying whom? You are aware that imaginative literature is...imaginative, no?

A single peak? This doesn't even rise to the level of low interest.

I wonder sometimes if Al Gore feels bad that he quit. If Clinton doesn't, ahem, relieve himself (?), what would have happened?

So say you did discover a giant mole. So what? Don't you realize this knowledge will be immediately incorporated into the knowledge of known knowledge and the public will immediately cease to care?

Imagine exerting all this effort to get there, only to find the food is bad and the women plain.

Doesn't that contradict one of Cowen's laws?

So, if there is an Alien civilization that's more advanced than our own, they would currently be monitoring signals from Earth from around 1921. They'll be relieved to hear that the War is over and the roaring 20's is about to unfold. Assuming that they can manage to interpret audio signals. They might have better luck translating video, but that won't begin till 1928.

Good point. Of course, that is exactly when a civilization that has been monitoring nearby space for signs of intelligent life would decide that they had found it and try to make contact... hmm...

I guess we'll find out in about 94 years.

I read somewhere that old time radio signals did not escape the Earth's ionosphere. The first signals to escape into space were TV signals. In Carl Sagan's novel "Contact" the first thing the aliens receive from Earth is a Nazi broadcast involving a big rally with Der Fuhrer.

Tyler who knows all and sees all can be our planet's diplomat to the ETs

Why not go to SETI to get info?

A SETI Signal?
Donate to SETI Institute

A star system 94 light-years away is in the spotlight as a possible candidate for intelligent inhabitants, thanks to the discovery of a radio signal by a group of Russian astronomers.

The RATAN-600 radio telescope, credit:

HD 164595, a solar system a few billion years older than the Sun but centered on a star of comparable size and brightness, is the purported source of a signal found with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, at the northern foot of the Caucasus Mountains. This system is known to have one planet, a Neptune-sized world in such a very tight orbit, making it unattractive for life. However, there could be other planets in this system that are still undiscovered.

The signal seems to have been discussed in a presentation given by several Russian astronomers as well as Italian researcher, Claudio Maccone, the chair of the International Academy of Astronautics Permanent SETI Committee. Maccone has recently sent an email to SETI scientists in which he describes this presentation, including the signal ascribed to star system HD 164595.

Could it be a transmission from a technically proficient society? At this point, we can only consider what is known so far. This is a technical story, of course.

First, is the detected signal really coming from the direction of HD 164595? The RATAN-600 is of an unusual design (a ring on the ground of diameter 577 meters), and has an unusual “beam shape” (the patch of sky to which it is sensitive). At the wavelength of the reported signal, 2.7 cm – which is equivalent to a frequency of 11 GHz – the beam is about 20 arcsec by 2 arcmin. In other words, it’s a patch that’s highly elongated in the north-south direction.

The patch from which the signal seems to be coming agrees in the east-west direction (the narrow part of the beam) with HD 165695’s sky coordinates, so that’s the basis of the assumption by the discoverers that this is likely to be coming from that star system. But of course, that’s not necessarily the case.

Second is the question of the characteristics of the signal itself. The observations were made with a receiver having a bandwidth of 1 GHz. That’s a billion times wider than the bandwidths traditionally used for SETI, and is 200 times wider than a television signal. The strength of the signal was 0.75 Janskys, or in common parlance, “weak.” But was it weak only because of the distance of HD 164595? Perhaps it was weak because of “dilution” of the signal by the very wide bandwidth of the Russian receiver? Just as a pot pie, incorporating lots of ingredients, can make guessing the individual foodstuffs more difficult, a wide-bandwidth receiver can dilute the strength of relatively strong narrow-band signals.

Now note that we can work backwards from the strength of the received signal to calculate how powerful an alien transmitter anywhere near HD 164595 would have to be. There are two interesting cases:

(1) They 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.

(2) 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, they would still need to wield more than a trillion watts, which is comparable to the total energy consumption of all humankind.

Both scenarios require an effort far, far beyond what we ourselves could do, and it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to target our solar system with a strong signal. This star system is so far away they won’t have yet picked up any TV or radar that would tell them that we’re here.

Enter the Allen Telescope Array

The chance that this is truly a signal from extraterrestrials is not terribly promising, and the discoverers themselves apparently doubt that they’ve found ET. Nonetheless, one should check out all reasonable possibilities, given the importance of the subject.

Consequently, the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) was swung in the direction of HD 164595 beginning on the evening of August 28. According to our scientists Jon Richards and Gerry Harp, it has so far not found any signal anywhere in the very large patch of sky covered by the ATA.

However, we have not yet covered the full range of frequencies in which the signal could be located, if it’s of far narrower bandwidth than the Russian 1 GHz receiver. We intend to completely cover this big swath of the radio dial in the next day or two. A detection, of course, would immediately spur the SETI and radio astronomy communities to do more follow-up observations.

We will continue to monitor this star system with the Array.

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. 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.

So what’s the bottom line? Could it be another society sending a signal our way? Of course, that’s possible. However, there are many other plausible explanations for this claimed transmission – including terrestrial interference. Without a confirmation of this signal, we can only say that it’s “interesting.”

-- Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

The most important news in the lifetime of your oldest readers is probably Hitler's turning on his ally, the USSR.

For those under 60, I would nominate either (i) the election of Ronald Reagan or (ii) the collapse of Communism (encapsulated, if you want a single day, by the opening of the Berlin wall).

The other thing that should be mentioned, I think, is that the frequency detected is often used by "the military". I'd put the odds of it being e.t. at about zero.
As an aside, I always find it annoying when supposedly rational people start spewing fantasy rubbish about Kardashev Civilizations or the Drake Equation - as if they have demonstrated validity. They don't.

"I always find it annoying when supposedly rational people start spewing fantasy rubbish about Kardashev Civilizations or the Drake Equation – as if they have demonstrated validity."

Hey, trends derived from just one data point are the very best kind! They don't restrict you with a lot of constraining boundaries.

"but stranger things have happened"

Challenge. Name five. Name one

(1) Earth is round; (2) Earth is not the center of the universe; (3) There is an absolute speed limit; (4) Over billions of years, people evolved from lesser organisms all the way back to the most primitive kinds; (5) Uncertainty appears to be a real and deep feature of the universe.

This signal is almost certainly noise, but it would be really interesting if it turned out not to be. It would probably crack the top ten human discoveries.

1) Earth has been known to be round since almost forever. The earth's circumference was calculated to within 500 miles by Hellenistic science, and most developed ancient societies (e.g. China, etc) figured it out independently. Anyone who has seen open ocean would suspect it, even if the curve of the horizon is an optical illusion. The myth is not "flat earth" but rather the meta-myth that there was ever widespread belief in flatness. The myth of flat-earthers was a Victorian invention of the "we're so much smarter than people in the past" variety. Columbus was a lucky scamster- the reason he was treated skeptically was not because people believed the earth was round, but because he based his enterprise on the assumption the earth's circumference was 25% smaller than it actually is. Even if it were 'news' to someone, it's only 'strange' if one's sense of geography were shaped by maps, which were not widespread before printing.

I won't get on a soapbox about the rest, but as a matter of pure science, the only thing remotely comparably strange would be quantum mechanics. The speed of light is so high that it is hard to intuit. It's strange in the strictly theoretical sense but has very limited practical effect. What make quantum mechanics so strange is that even well-versed people have trouble 'understanding' it and yet it has detectable real-world consequences. The strange part about evolution is not evolution per se (the fundamental principle involved is pretty easy to intuit and observe in everyday life), but the time-scale involved.

Outside of what you might consider 'pure science' the strangest discoveries are probably fire (there's probably no way to get 'in-the-head' of cro-magnons, but the idea that fire could be intentionally started and managed had to be an utter mind-blower) and the European discovery of the Western Hemisphere. Yes, that's all eurocentric of me, but there really isn't much else that was not only so surprising but also so immediately consequential. It's worth remembering that the only reason we wouldn't consider the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere impossibly strange is precisely because we have a long tradition of fiction that takes the European discovery of America as its archetypical model.

But I do agree with you on the idea that it's almost certainly a false alarm. The whole part about how any intelligent source of this signal would have to be using a substantial portion of the star's energy makes the occam's razor assumption that there's something going on with the star instead.

Wrong, the Chinese and several other civilizations thought the earth was flat until European science.

Epilogue : The aliens are disguising their signal to make it appear as if it is coming from a Russian spy satellite.

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