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First contact? Radio emission from nearby star has Canadian scientists buzzing

A Russian radio telescope has received a "strong" signal from a nearby star. Is it a sign of intelligent life?

Russian radio telescope picks up a strong surge of activity — but doubts linger

The star from which a strange radio signal appears to have originated has one known planet in orbit, about the size of Neptune, similar to the one shown in this artist's conception. But it could also have other planets. (NASA)

A Russian space telescope has detected a strong signal from a nearby star that could mean the existence of extraterrestrial beings — but the lone observation needs to be replicated before any concrete conclusions are made, according to a Canadian scientist.

In May, Russian radio telescope Ratan-600 was aimed at a small patch of sky and received a "strong signal" as star HD 164595 moved through its view.

According to Ken Tapping, a scientist at the NRC's Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton, the emission could be from an advanced radio transmitter on a nearby planet.

"The strength of the signal is such that the transmitter power would be bigger than any transmitter we could possibly make on the earth," said Tapping on CBC's Daybreak South.

According to Tapping, it's possible extra-terrestrial beings could either be directly or indirectly sending the signal to Earth.

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is currently investigating the signal.

Following the Russian discovery, the question on Tapping's mind is quite simple.

"If they're pointing it in our direction, why?" he said. "There's a million directions you can point the radio telescope."

Tapping says it would take 100 years for a radio signal to reach Earth from HD 164595. But he questions whether or not the signal was sent on purpose.

Contact, or a huge coincidence?

"Their signal has been on its way to us for about 100 years, so any signal from Earth that would have attracted their interest must have left at least 100 years before that, maybe 200 years ago — and there were no radio transmissions of any systematic sort coming from the Earth 200 years ago," said Tapping.

Tapping says there's also the possibility that signal was received indirectly from a much stronger transmitter sending out noise in various directions. He says a transmitter that powerful would be far more advanced than anything we have on Earth.

Either way, he says, the finding needs to be replicated before any conclusions are drawn.

"We've only seen one of these, and basically, you need to confirm this — you need to see the signal again," said Tapping.

Tapping says it is likely the signal was man-made — possibly interference from a nearby satellite or aircraft that was emitting radio signals that were received by the highly sensitive telescope during the brief moment the star passed through its gaze.

"Something blasting in from where the telescope is not pointing is really quite possible," said Tapping. "This might be just a huge coincidence and has to be checked out."

"Knowing we're not alone in the universe is something we'd really like to be sure of," he said.

With files from CBC's Daybreak South

The listen to the full interview, click on the link: First contact made? Federal scientist Ken Tapping weighs in on Russian telescope finding


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