ET?

Today was a very strange day at Jodrell. After an article appeared in New Scientist yesterday announcing that a particular signal observed using the Arecibo telescope as part of the SETI@home project has now been detected three times, the press seem to have taken this to mean that extra-terrestrial life has been detected.

It seems that the initial quotes from the researchers were quite enthusiastic about the signal being worth following up, but not one of them ever said (as far as I can see) that this was proof of aliens. In fact, Dan Werthimer, a radio astronomer at the University of California and a SETI@home scientist said "We're not jumping up and down, but we are continuing to observe it."

All the excitement has meant that reporters from all over the place have been calling Jodrell all day trying to get an interview with an astronomer. Tim O'Brien was interviewed by both Classic FM and the BBC this evening, and an American lady even called the MSc room asking to speak to the telescope controller!

It does look interesting, but I'm not convinced. It seems much more likely that the signal is noise generated either by the receiver or something locally. There is a famous (and therefore possibly completely made-up) story about some researchers who saw a signal appear in their data at the same time every day for a week. At first they were astounded and convinced that they had found evidence of intelligent life. Eventually someone realised that the signal was actually coming from a nearby building where one of the staff was heating up his dinner in a microwave oven. Whether it's true or not, it just goes to show that you can't always believe what you see in your data.

Posted in astro blog by Megan on Thursday 02nd Sep 2004 (23:07 UTC) | Permalink
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