Tuesday, August 30, 2016

HD 164595: An Example of How Tough Discovery Notification Will Be

Update: Russian scientists now call the signal terrestrial in origin. More here.

There's a sudden rush of excitement on the Internet about star HD 164595 in the Hercules constellation. An Italian scientist found a strange signal emanating from the star on May 15, 2016. According to SETI there have been 39 observations since that time, in attempts to replicate the signal. Nothing else has been discovered. So, why all the excitement? A blogger apparently got advance word of the search, details of which were due to be presented during a conference in September. Internet speculators and the mainstream media, including CNN, have jumped on board this week. While the stories themselves offer a more complete analysis, the headlines are rather excited.

Who knows? This could be what everyone has been waiting for- an actual signal from an alien civilization. But the only way scientists can begin to prove that is by finding the signal again, and again, and again. They are still looking in many frequency ranges and even for any possible laser light emission.

This is another example of how quick information can spread and the danger of that speculation. One can only imagine what would happen if scientists do make a discovery some day. This shows that it will likely come out prematurely and lead to rampant speculation. The difficult thing about speculation is that it could lead anywhere...so if there is some element of truth, it can be spun so many different ways people won't know what to believe.

What can we do? Pay attention to trusted sources. The folks at the SETI Institute in Mountain View California have been through this more than once. Seth Shostak is a good source for an educated, and well informed, scientific opinion. Just watch out in the mainstream media. I have already seen quotes from Shostak and colleague Douglas Vakoch, twisted around in reports that make things seem more exciting than they are- yet.

We need to have patience and let scientists do the hard and often tedious work that is required when there is an unexplained astral phenomena. Here's a link to the situation on the SETI Institute website. This is a recently updated link to the star HD 164595 Wikipedia page with a lot more about the sun and why this signal is so intriguing to SETI researchers.

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