There’s plenty to complain about when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party and we’ve done far more than our fair share of that here. But sometimes you just have to give credit where credit is due. When it comes to the search to see if humans might not be alone in the universe, NASA is moseying around and looking through old satellite data. Meanwhile, the Chinese have built the biggest radio telescope in the world and they have spent the past several years knocking on doors in distant parts of the galaxy to see if any technologically advanced extraterrestrial lifeforms might answer. The FAST telescope in Pingtang County, Guizhou, southwest China has a diameter of 1,600 feet and it’s been listening to many stars known to have exoplanets. This week, the researchers in charge of the project announced that somebody might be out there after all. They’ve detected “suspicious” signals that may be technosignatures from an alien civilization beaming information out into the cosmos. (Newsweek)
Scientists in China say they have detected what could be the trace of a signal from an alien civilization.
The researchers have identified what they have called “suspicious” signals from space as part of a search for evidence of aliens, and work is ongoing to determine that they might be…
On Tuesday, the Chinese state media outlet Science and Technology Daily reported that researchers under professor Zhang Tongjie, described as chief scientist of the China Extraterrestrial Civilization Research Group at Beijing Normal University, had found a number of “possible technological traces” from intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the cosmos.
As cool and exciting as this story may be, it’s hardly definitive. The Chinese still aren’t saying exactly what was so “suspicious” about the three different signal sources that made them potential candidates to be technosignatures. But it’s probably safe to assume that they contained something nonrandom in appearance that would differentiate them from the rest of the cosmic background noise, suggesting the possibility that they might be artificial in origin.
But their science team also readily admits that the signals very well could be “some kind of radio interference” that they would still need to rule out. And as cosmologists regularly remind us, space is a noisy place. When you aim a radio telescope out into the galaxy, there are things generating noise all across the band. Stars, black holes, and colliding stellar bodies all generate noises.
But those types of signals are random in nature and we’ve been learning to identify them as this field of science has progressed. What we’re really looking for is something that might resemble a carrier with some data embedded in it. We know of no natural phenomena out there that produce anything resembling our own radio transmissions. If we assume that any other technological civilization would adopt similar methods of communication, it might wind up looking a lot like our own. Of course, that’s a very big assumption. But if this pans out and passes peer review with other teams around the world, this could absolutely be one of the most game-changing discoveries of our lifetimes.
Then again, perhaps this will all turn out to be a dead end. It was reported today that the original article from the Chinese outlet that first reported the news had been deleted from the site without comment. No reason was given, so perhaps an updated version will replace it soon. We’ll keep an eye on it.
This search has been going on for a long time, mostly being handled by SETI in the past. But now everyone is getting in on the game. It’s been a while since there were any promising leads. As the linked article reminds us, the last really exciting one was probably the Wow! signal, detected by the Big Ear telescope at Ohio State University in 1977. We still don’t know what the one was, though some scientists believe that it might not have been alien in nature at all. Will we have better luck with one of these signals? Stay tuned.