Was SETI signal from aliens? Russians say ‘nyet’

Image: RATAN-600 radio telescope
Detectors for the RATAN-600 telescope form a wide ring in this fisheye view. (Credit: SAO-RAS)

Russian astronomers acknowledge that they picked up an “interesting radio signal” in the course of their search for alien transmissions, but that the signal was most probably a case of terrestrial interference.

“It can be said with confidence that no sought-for signal has been detected yet,” astronomers from the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement issued Aug. 30.

The signal spike at 11 GHz was detected by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in the southern Russian republic of Karachay-Cherkessia in May 2015, during a campaign that’s part of the worldwide search for extraterrestrial intelligence (a.k.a. SETI).

The detection didn’t come to light until last weekend, but once news started circulating, it touched off parallel observations by the SETI Institute and the Breakthrough Listen Initiative. Those groups focused on the same area of the sky that was the target of the Russian observation: a sunlike star known as HD 164595 in the constellation Hercules.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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