Skip to main content

‘Alien’ signal seen by Chinese telescope likely due to radio interference

A signal detected by a Chinese telescope and originally reported as possible evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence is almost certainly due to human factors, one of the researchers on the project has said.

The signal, detected by the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), was announced this week by the newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Science and Technology Daily, which said it had detected “possible technological traces of extraterrestrial civilizations.” However, researcher Dan Werthimer of the University of California, Berkeley has told Live Science that the signals are “from [human] radio interference, and not from extraterrestrials.”

Related Videos

FAST is an enormous ground-based telescope that is extremely sensitive and picks up radio signals from different points of the sky. It is used for research into SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) by looking for technosignatures, which are signals that would be produced by the technology of distant civilizations.

FAST looks through huge amounts of data to search for evidence of technosignatures, but there are difficulties resulting from it being so sensitive. SETI researcher Danny Price of Curtin University, who was not involved in the FAST research, explained in The Conversation that because FAST is so sensitive, it will pick up signals from many sources and is prone to detecting radio interference. He cautioned the public to, “stay intrigued, but don’t get too excited” when hearing about possible signals of alien civilizations.

The signal detected by FAST had been of particular interest because it was in a narrow band, which is unusual from natural sources. But one of the Chinese researchers, Tong-Jie Zhang, also cautioned in Science and Technology Daily that the possibility that the signal they detected was radio interference was “very high.”

That’s because there are so many radio signals given off on Earth that it’s very hard to avoid them all. “The big problem, and the problem in this particular case, is that we’re looking for signals from extraterrestrials, but what we find is a zillion signals from terrestrials,” Werthimer said to Live Science. “They’re very weak signals, but the cryogenic receivers on the telescopes are super sensitive and can pick up signals from cell phones, television, radar, and satellites — and there are more and more satellites in the sky every day. “

Editors' Recommendations

NASA to reveal Artemis II crew for historic lunar trip
The moon and Earth as seen from the Orion spacecraft in November 2022.

NASA will soon reveal the four lucky astronauts that will be sent on a flyby of the moon in the Artemis II mission.

The four crewmembers -- three from NASA and one from the Canadian Space Agency -- will be named on Monday, April 3, NASA chief Bill Nelson announced in a tweet on Thursday.

Read more
ISS forced to steer clear of a functioning satellite
The International Space Station.

The International Space Station (ISS) was forced to make a maneuver to avoid a potential collision earlier this week.

The ISS is occasionally forced to take such action to avoid potential damage, but on this occasion, rather than dodging space debris, the facility steered clear of a functioning satellite.

Read more
Roman Space Telescope will survey the sky 1,000 times faster than Hubble
NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

Since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has been delighting space fans with its stunning views of space objects near and far. But NASA has another space telescope in the works that will be able to help answer even more of the big questions in astronomy. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch in 2027 and colloquially known as Roman, will look at vast areas of space to help cosmologists understand the universe on a large scale.

In astronomy research, it's important to be able to look both in very great detail and on a very wide scale. Telescopes like Hubble and James Webb have exceptional sensitivity, so they can look at extremely distant objects. Roman will be different, aiming to get a broad view of the sky. The image below illustrates the differences between the telescopes, showing what Roman and Hubble can capture in one go and comparing Hubble's detailed, but narrow view to Roman's much wider view.

Read more