​It was Earth all along: Alien signal was actually terrestrial

"I don't mean to alarm you Mrs. Thompson, but the call is coming from *inside* your house."

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
2 min read
Watch this: Astronomers detect a strange radio signal from deep space

We thought aliens were making first contact, but it looks like Earth has been caught out by a case of phantom phone vibration on a cosmic scale.

The latest radio signal picked up by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) had excited some folks, but it turns out the signal came from Earth.

Earlier this week, our SETI senses were tingling over news that Russian scientists had discovered a "strong signal" coming out of a star system 95 light-years away. The signal was reportedly picked up by the Russian RATAN-600 radio telescope more than a year ago, coming from the direction of the star HD 164595.

While news sites around the world started calling Jodi Foster for comment on this real-life "Contact" situation, the rest of us (CNET included) were pretty skeptical. For starters, the Russians reportedly only picked up the signal once in 39 tries, and they'd sat on the seemingly exciting news for a year.

"The most likely explanation for the signal from the direction of HD164595 is that it's not a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence," METI (Messaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) International President Doug Vakoch told CNET's Eric Mack via email.

20th Century Fox/Frinkiac

And now it seems our extraterrestrial inklings were terrestrial all along.

The Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SAO RAS) has released a statement, saying mass media reports had made it necessary to make "official comments" on the matter.

"Observations at RATAN-600 are made possible owing to its large collecting area of thousands of square meters, and this high sensibility of the telescope allows us to search for extremely weak signals in the Universe," the statement reads.

"In the framework of this program, an interesting radio signal at a wavelength of 2.7 cm was detected in the direction of one of the objects (star system HD164595 in Hercules) in 2015. Subsequent processing and analysis of the signal revealed its most probable terrestrial origin."

Whatever the cause -- METI's Doug Vakoch posited it could be "radio interference caused by an Earth-based transmitter" -- these weren't the signals we were looking for.

"It can be said with confidence that no sought-for signal has been detected yet," the SAO RAS statement said.

It looks like ET phones from home.

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