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Definitely not aliens, says scientist working on project

Not aliens: Robotic humanoid holding a transparent tablet with radio telescope in background.
Are we alone? It’s one of the most fundamental questions of humankind. Yet the signals reported this week from China’s FAST telescope are not aliens, says a SETI researcher. Image via Breakthrough Listen/ Danielle Futselaar/ SETI Institute.

This post is a follow-up to our post from June 14: Did China’s FAST telescope detect alien intelligence?

Not aliens, says SETI researcher

On June 14, 2022, EarthSky and other media reported on the Twitter chatter about possible artificial signals detected by China’s FAST radio telescope. We noted that the “suspicious signals” might be some kind of natural radio interference. Or not. On June 15, writing at Futurism, Toronto-based science journalist Victor Tangermann reported on a rebuttal of the “alien” idea by an American scientist involved with the China project.

Dan Werthimer is a SETI researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. He directs UC Berkeley SETI searches at radio, infrared and visible wavelengths. He also coauthored a preprint paper about the findings with FAST. And he told Futurism:

The signals that we found so far are all [radio frequency] interference. They’re not from extraterrestrials. They’re from terrestrials.

A billion coin flips

Speaking with Tangermann, Werthimer likened the current research to a “kind of a down payment on our survey to make sure everything’s working.” He said radio frequency interference (RFI) is “a big problem” while looking at these “very weak signals,” and he added:

The problem is that when you look for these very weak signals from a distant civilization, you get overwhelmed by the the pollution, the radio pollution on Earth. All this television and cell phones and satellites now are getting worse and worse and it’s hard to figure out what’s interference and what might be from a distant civilization.

And Werthimer likened searching for alien signals within a mass of data collected by FAST to a billion coin flips. He told Tangermann:

If you’re not used to looking at a billion things, looking for unusual stuff, it’s like flipping a coin a billion times and see ten heads in a row or even 20 heads in a row.

But my guess is they’re not used to these experiments, where you’re flipping a coin a billion times a second.

Werthimer is an old hand at SETI

The video below tells you a bit about Werthimer’s background, and about how he came to work with SETI:

Bottom line: An American SETI researcher, Dan Werthimer, does not believe that the “suspicious signals” from China’s FAST telescope – reported this week by EarthSky and other media – are signals from an alien intelligence. Werthimer coauthored a preprint paper about the findings with FAST.

Read: Did China’s FAST telescope detect alien intelligence?

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