Astronomers baffled by mysterious signals emanating from dwarf star

Astronomers baffled by mysterious signals emanating from dwarf star
Astronomers on the hunt for habitable worlds beyond our solar system say they have picked up “strange signals” emanating from a nearby star, 11 light years away.

Scientists from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are studying red dwarf stars in the hope that they might find planets orbiting them. On May 12, they observed mysterious radio signals emanating from a star called Ross 128.

Could these radio signals be signs of extraterrestrial life? Prof. Abel Méndez, planetary astrobiologist and director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, doesn’t think it’s very likely.

“In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations,” Méndez wrote in a recent blog post.

However, the source of the strange signals still eludes the team. One theory about the source is solar flares – powerful outbursts of energy shooting out from the star's surface travelling at light speed.   

A second theory is that the signals are actually coming from another object within the field of view of Ross 128. However, as Mendez says, “there are no[t] many nearby objects in the field of view of Ross 128,” further deepening the mystery.

The signals could also be coming from something far closer – a high orbit satellite which passed through the telescope's field of view, but which moved too quickly to be detected. However, this seems an unlikely source for the mysterious signals.

“We have never seen satellites emit bursts like that, which were common in our other star observations,” Mendez said of this theory.

Whatever the signals are, they are “not local radio frequency interferences” and are “unique to Ross 128,” as similar observations of other stars did not show anything quite like it.

Dwarf stars have already been shown to have planets orbiting the habitable, or ‘goldilocks,’ zone, as is the case with the recently discovered TRAPPIST-1.

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Mendez and his team will once again observe Ross 128 on Sunday, July 16. Until then, we’ll have to wait patiently just like Prof. Mendez.

He’ll be having a drink to celebrate if and when results come in. “I have a Piña Colada ready to celebrate if the signals result to be astronomical in nature,” he said.