Could it be time to start practicing your best Janeway? Maybe so as SETI researchers in Russia are reporting a strong spike in radio signals that seem to orginate from the direction of a sunlike star in the constellation Hercules. The signal appears to fit the profile for an “intentional transmission from an extraterrestrial source.” However, it could very well be a microlensing event in which the star’s gravitational field focused stray signals coming from much farther away.
“There could, of course, be other planets still undetected in this system,”
In any case, the event is interesting enough to merit discussion by specialists in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI – including Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster, who brought the case into the public eye.
At least two groups are aiming to track Hercules this week. The SETI Institute is using the Allen Telescope Array in northern California, while METI International is looking to the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama.
Gilster reports that the signal was detected more than a year ago, on May 15, 2015, by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya. That facility is in the Russian republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, not far from the Georgian border.
The apparent source of the signal is interesting for a couple of reasons: It’s a sunlike star, about 95 light-years away from Earth, and it’s already known to have at least one “warm Neptune” planet called HD 164595 b. “There could, of course, be other planets still undetected in this system,” Gilster says.
There are a few different possibilities as to what this signal is. First, and most likely, it could be completely unrelated to alien life. Second, it could be an “isotropic” beacon — a powerful signal blasted out in all directions, one that would likely require that the civilization can harness all of the power of its host star. And third, it could be a targeted beacon — directly aimed at Earth, by a civilization that does not necessarily have that harnessing power, but is potentially aware of the presence of another civilization that has the capacity to understand such a beacon.
At this point, we all will just have to sit and wait to find out if we are indeed alone out here in the vastness of space.