Sorry, but Chinese scientists have not found an extraterrestrial radio signal

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  • A Chinese radio telescope has detected radio signals that researchers believe could be technological traces of an alien civilization.
  • The Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in Guizhou, China detected the signals.
  • Astrophysicists were excited about the possibility of finding a real extraterrestrial technosignature, but it was ultimately interference from Earth electronics.

    China reported this week that the most powerful ground-based radio telescope may have identified technological traces of an extraterrestrial civilization in an electromagnetic signal from space. The Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in southeastern China picked up the narrowband signal, typical of an artificial, unnatural source, such as a black hole or stars. But it was too good to be true.

    What the researchers actually discovered was radio frequency interference from Earth, likely cell phones, computers, satellites, or other electronic devices near the observatory. All of these devices produce weak radio transmissions themselves.

    “These signals come from radio interference; they are due to radio pollution from earthlings, not extraterrestrials.

    FAST’s unique ability to scan in 19 different sky directions helps eliminate signals from more than one direction at a time, Astronomer Vishal Gajjar recount Popular mechanics in an email. An extraterrestrial signal would come from a single point in the sky. In fact, this technique eliminated 99% of the signals in this particular survey, says Gajjar, who is a project scientist for the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)it is Revolutionary Listening project at the University of California, Berkeley. One percent of the signals needed to be studied more carefully.

    “As one of the co-authors of this study, I can say with certainty that they are unlikely to be of foreign origin. The signal found was checked with all details and we found that ‘it didn’t actually come from the sky but was likely to be generated by our own Earth-based technology,’ he says.

    astrophysicist Sascha Trippe from Seoul National University in South Korea, which is not involved in FAST, also did not expect any signs of extraterrestrials to turn out to be real. Ahead of the researchers’ final analysis, he tweeted his skeptical response to the news of the possible discovery of an extraterrestrial signal:

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    Researchers check every potential signal in detail, says Trippe Popular mechanics in an email. “For example, you check if the signal is indeed coming from the direction of one and only one specific star.”

    FAST is the largest and most sensitive single dish radio telescope in the world. Located in Guizhou, a mountainous region of China, it sits in a bowl-shaped natural depression. Among its applications in the observation of pulsars, stars and other natural space phenomena, FAST also searches for very low narrowband radio frequencies in its search for extraterrestrial signals in the vast sea of ​​electromagnetic waves of the Earth and space.

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      This is because, among other reasons, a narrowband frequency excludes natural astrophysical sources of radiation as well as atmospheric “noise” from Earth, Trippe explains. FAST targets exoplanets, those planets that are outside our own solar system. In September 2020, he officially launched his search for extraterrestrial civilizations in collaboration with SETI’s Breakthrough Listen project. Since then, researchers from Beijing Normal University, the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of California, Berkeley have worked together to search for extraterrestrial civilizations. They discovered two clusters of signals from space that year, but determined they were not from extraterrestrials.

      While scientists using the telescope were hopeful this time around, they knew detection of an actual alien presence was unlikely. “The possibility that the suspicious signal is some kind of radio interference is also very high, and it needs to be further confirmed or ruled out. This can be a long process,” Zhang Tongjiesaid the chief scientist of China’s Extraterrestrial Civilization Research Group Everyday science and technology in a June 14 report from the official gazette of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

      The analysis turned out to be a short process because by June 15 astronomers had carefully checked every signal and knew it was a false alarm, says Dan Werthimer, who helped set up the detectors for the SETI Institute on FAST. He also directs the SETI radio telescope at UC Berkeley, which searches for extraterrestrial signals. “These signals come from radio interference; they are due to radio pollution from earthlings, not extraterrestrials,” he says. Popular mechanics in an email, referencing the lovable alien from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film of the same name, AND the extra-terrestrial.

      “All signals detected by SETI researchers so far are emitted by our own civilization, not by another civilization,” he adds.

      SETI has been searching for signs of extraterrestrials since 1984, and it has grown into a worldwide effort. FAST could be the next natural choice for radio astronomers looking for signs of extraterrestrials, after the telescope was removed from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

      Also known as the Tianyan Telescope, translated as “Sky Eye”, FAST has three major advantages over Arecibo in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations, said Zhang Tongjie, an astrophysicist from Beijing Normal University. Everyday science and technology: the ability to monitor a larger area of ​​the sky and twice the sensitivity, as well as the ability to check signals from 19 different points in the sky. Additionally, telescope operators can change the positioning of its 4,500 aluminum panels as needed through remote computer control.

      Keep your eyes peeled for more updates from robot pop about how researchers would handle a positive identification of an extraterrestrial signal – and what they would do if a realistic candidate for an extraterrestrial signature ever emerged from all the radio pollution.

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