Sci-Tech

Alien hunters who listened to weird distant star share their findings

There's something around the star KIC 8462852 that seems so unnatural it's driven serious scientists to search for alien signals coming from the system.

The SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array in northern California.

Seth Shostak, SETI Institute

It's been a few weeks now since news swept the Earth of something weird orbiting a distant star -- something so unusual, in fact, that some very serious scientists began to wonder out loud if the phenomenon might be created by something other than nature. On cue, the folks at the SETI Institute swung into action, training their Allen Telescope Array on the star named KIC 8462852 (also known informally as "Tabby's Star") to listen for any kind of signal that an intelligent civilization in the neighborhood might be sending us.

Late Thursday the Institute uploaded a paper detailing what they've heard so far, and it's bad news for E.T. fans. In short, if there are aliens around Tabby's Star, they're not being very loud.

"No narrowband radio signals were found at a level of 180 - 300 Jy in a 1Hz channel, or wideband signals above 100 Jy in a 100kHz channel," writes the SETI Institute team in a paper uploaded to Cornell 's ArXiv.org.

A post on the institute's blog explains a little bit more about the two types of signals the Allen Telescope Array was listening for from Tabby's Star:

1) Narrow-band signals, of order 1 Hz in width, such as would be generated as a "hailing signal" for societies wishing to announce their presence. This is the type of signal most frequently looked for by radio SETI experiments. (2) Broad-band signals that might be due to beamed propulsion within this star system. If astroengineering projects are really underway in the vicinity of KIC 8462852, one might reasonably expect the presence of spacecraft to service this activity. If these craft are propelled by intense microwave beams, some of that energy might manifest itself as broad-band radio leakage.

In other words, since they didn't find such signals, there wasn't evidence to suggest that any civilizations around Tabby's Star are trying to reach out to Earth directly. And if they fly microwave-propelled spacecraft around, it seems they may have laws requiring the installation of broadband mufflers.

"The history of astronomy tells us that every time we thought we had found a phenomenon due to the activities of extraterrestrials, we were wrong," Institute astronomer Seth Shostak said in the blog post. "But although it's quite likely that this star's strange behavior is due to nature, not aliens, it's only prudent to check such things out."

The Institute and others will continue to study the strange distant star system to see if anyone is at home or if it's just nature getting super-weird on us once again.