THIS is odd. Therefore aliens? Two French-Canadian astronomers have spotted strange flashes of colour from a set of stars. They say it’s an alien civilisation. Others say it’s just a glitch.
A study submitted to Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific by the Universite Laval astronomers in Quebec says that a handful of stars captured by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey appear to be behaving abnormally.
Out of 2.5 million stars studied, 234 showed signs of ‘spectral modulation’ — or rapid, minuscule changes in colours.
It was exactly what the astronomers were looking for.
What excited them most was that these changes followed a repeating pattern, and that pattern was identical across many of the stars.
The study argues that this pattern is unlikely to be explained by natural forces. Therefore it is evidence of an alien civilisation attempting to alert the surrounding universe to its existence.
“We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an ETI signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis,” it reads.
“The fact that they are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centred near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis.”
Their excitement, however, has not been taken up by the rest of the astronomical community.
In fact, many express growing frustration at a spate of ‘alien contact’ reports being used to explain recent anomalous observations, including fast radio bursts and stuttering stars.
Mystery, they say, is the bread and butter of the astronomical business.
It’s about learning the incredibly complex rules that govern the universe.
Not everything that is odd has to be alien.
In fact, nothing odd has ever turned out to be such.
EXPLORE MORE: Have we found a second ‘Dyson sphere’?
And this study raises several ‘red flags’ pointing towards human error.
Swinburne University astrophysicist Dr Alan Duffy says he is not impressed by the study.
“The researchers claim to see the same tiny pattern appearing hundreds of stars which is more likely to be the same mistake in their analysis not a sign that all aliens are communicating the same way,” he says.
“A detection of alien life would be so extraordinary that to claim it requires extraordinary evidence and several teams and telescopes confirming it. This work doesn’t even come close to being able to make that claim.”
Horizon joins the planet hunters who have discovered a new world called Gliese 581c, which may have habitats capable of supporting life.
It is just one study. The findings have not been replicated.
Also, the signals that were the subject of the search have been detected by just the one survey — a wide field survey designed to map millions of stars. Not analyse a few.
Specialist alien hunter for SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Seth Shostak says he also is dubious about the conclusion.
“I am quite sceptical, in particular of the data processing that can take spectrally sampled data, and infer time variations. So I’d be a little careful,” he told astronomy.com.
Breakthrough #Listen to check claim that features in @sdssurveys may be signals. Calibration effects more likely: https://t.co/dXTzkreyLs
— Breakthrough (@brkthroughprize) October 11, 2016
SETI’s $100 million Breakthrough Listen survey for extraterrestrial life says the problem is most likely one of calibration.
“The one in 10,000 objects with unusual spectra seen by Borra and Trottier are certainly worthy of additional study. However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Breakthrough Listen director Andrew Siemion wrote in a statement. “(It must be) confirmed by independent groups using their own telescopes, and for all natural explanations to be exhausted before invoking extraterrestrial agents as an explanation. Careful work must be undertaken to determine false positive rates, to rule out natural and instrumental explanations, and most importantly, to confirm detections using two or more independent telescopes.”