back to article Spoiler alert: We'll bet boffins still haven't spotted aliens

As any followers of the “Tabbi's Star” controversy will tell you, put “aliens” in a media release and you're bound to get the clicks. So it was over the weekend when the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific accepted a paper claiming to have identified 234 stars out of a couple of million whose signatures …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The controversy doesn't matter

    I agree that the guy is most likely wrong, for whatever reason we'll likely never hear of in mainstream news because nobody will be able to insert "aliens" in the headline, but it doesn't really matter.

    That the guy published something that is very likely to be totally debunked is not a surprise either. He probably needs to garner some attention to show his department exists in order to secure some funding for next year. This is as good an opportunity as any other, and if debunked he has a gold-plated reason to say "see, I need more money for better equipment".

    Whatever the reason why this study will be debunked is going to be just one more pebble on the beach of knowledge that Science is creating. The information will be consigned to History and future scientists will benefit from it either way.

    That's the beauty of Science : even inaccuracy makes it stronger.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Re: The controversy doesn't matter

      And when they land on the White House lawn and say "Oi!! Why do you keep ignoring our messages?"

      He will be able to say "I told you so".

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: The controversy doesn't matter

        More likely they'll be landing on the Whitehouse lawn with an Interstellar Arrest Warrant for illegally tapping secure comms.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The controversy doesn't matter

          They're Canadians, we'll send them up to Ottawa to serve that warrant!

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Holmes

    The distances involved seem to point that the signals would have had to leave the originating planet a very long time ago. Possibly back in the childhood of the universe. So would any civilization have died out by now? Or are they knocking on our door as they've had the time to mature far beyond where we are now?

    Icon ----> Trying to think this through as far as even being possible and if SETI is just wasting time and money or is there a real possibility.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Headmaster

      > Possibly back in the childhood of the universe.

      That's 13 billion years. There will have been nothing back then (conversely, one of my pet ideas is that the superdense initial universe was actually fertile ground for large civilizational construction - but all of that would have been over in a few milliseconds as the environment cooled off; that's just by the by).

      You would just look at stars in the galactic neighborhood. 1000 LY out or so.

      1. ridley

        I doubt it as there would be nothing to build anything with at that point.

      2. The lone lurker

        @Destroy All Monsters

        This idea is also described in some detail by Stephen Baxter in a number of his Xeelee sequence novels (most notably Exultant). With the various phase changes of the early universe influenced by these early civilizations.

        Well worth a read IMO.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        That's 13 billion years."

        Maybe Universe years are like a billion to one in human terms and it's only just left childhood and become a teenager? Is it time to worry? Are those noises just it rebelling against it's parents because the don't understand it and are always laying down physical laws that must be obeyed without question and why the hell do I have to eat those vegetable planets anyway?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The distances involved seem to point that the signals would have had to leave the originating planet a very long time ago. Possibly back in the childhood of the universe."

      The SDSS uses wide-angle telescopes and isn't able to isolate individual stars in other galaxies; the stars they're talking about will all be in our Milky Way galaxy.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Headmaster

    I'm just sipping my first coffee and what is this?

    Why is there a photo of a dismantled humanoid/synthetic leading this story?

    It's completely nonsensical to use that picturel. This is a standard "company" model, seen on all good spaceships that insist on a minimum of upkeep and synthetic assistance to the human crew.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: I'm just sipping my first coffee and what is this?

      Ah, is that what the photo is? I expected Kenneth Williams to say 'Frying tonight'!

    2. ST Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: I'm just sipping my first coffee and what is this?

      > Why is there a photo of a dismantled humanoid/synthetic leading this story?

      Alien.

      It's a screenshot from the first Alien - Ridley Scott - film.

      Because the article is about an article about Aliens.

      Pedantic, yes, I know. :-)

  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Instrument error?

    Ah, happy memories!

    Scene: St Andrews University Observatory

    Time: sometime in the late seventies

    Several students using an early form of electronics (a photometer) attached to a telescope to measure the light from a star. Much head scratching when we noticed irregular drops in the readings of variable duration. Talk to lecturer. No idea. Eventually worked it out - someone had been standing on the cable connecting the detector to the box of tricks. This confirmed our hypothesis that electricity is really just like water - block the pipe and it stops flowing. In fact, after even more head scratching we worked out that the cable was co-ax, and the resistance of co-ax varies according to shape. Circular it's at a minimum, squash it with a pair of size 9s and it become oval and the resistance increases. If we'd thought further I'm sure we could have developed a really useful consumer gadget that used that property, and we'd all have got very rich.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Instrument error?

      "Circular it's at a minimum, squash it with a pair of size 9s and it become oval and the resistance increases."

      Was that DC resistance, AC resistance, or AC impedance?

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Instrument error?

        Was that DC resistance, AC resistance, or AC impedance?

        God knows! If I'd been any good at physics, do you think that 40 years later I'd be reading El Reg?

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Instrument error?

          Tagline: "It is never too late to read El Reg!"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Instrument error?

        "Was that DC resistance, AC resistance, or AC impedance?"

        It would be impedance. Squashing coax increases capacitance per unit length and so reduces impedance. "50 ohm" coax refers to the impedance, and the terminating resistors. If you can squash a 0.8mm copper wire with boots sufficiently to increase the resistance of a length noticeably, you may be in line for some kind of award.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Instrument error?

          " If you can squash a 0.8mm copper wire with boots sufficiently to increase the resistance of a length noticeably, you may be in line for some kind of award."

          Impedance was my first thought.

          Then I wondered about the effect on a multi-strand core conductor - whether deformation of that would change the skin effect for AC.

          Also skin effect on AC for the braided outer conductor - as flattening would presumably increase the surface area. Not sure if that could also change the DC resistance.

          Life has always taught me to consider the non-obvious possibilities - if no constraints specifically exclude them. There have been standard approaches to calculations where a factor could be deliberately disregarded as insignificant. Then came a real world application where that factor was no longer insignificant.

        2. Katie Saucey
          Devil

          Re: Instrument error?

          ' If you can squash a 0.8mm copper wire with boots sufficiently to increase the resistance of a length noticeably, you may be in line for some kind of award.'

          Cake eating?

  5. Yesnomaybe

    As a transmitter, it is certainly powerful enough.

    "use a (much smaller) laser to insert a modulated signal on the huge light output coming from a star."

    The bandwidth would be very low though. I don't know how quickly you could change a star's spectral signature with a laser, and the author probably doesn't either. But even if it is a relatively quick process, the signal coming from the nearest point of the star would mess with the signal coming from further around the star unless the bandwith was well below 1Hz. Depends a bit on the size of the star obviously.

    1. frank ly

      Re: As a transmitter, it is certainly powerful enough.

      If they tuned the laser to emit at one of the spectral absorbtion lines of the star, then the signal/noise ratio would be much lower if an observer measured the light in the absorbtion line. An observer could use a non-resonating laser cavity, tuned to that frequency, as an amplifier to monitor light in the normally dark band.

      The question would be: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As a transmitter, it is certainly powerful enough.

        Maybe it's a non-directional laser ( you know, the kind they use to light up shops so bright it burns your retinas. I assume they must use some sort of laser technology, that intense light can't come from ordinary light bulbs, can it? )

      2. A K Stiles Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

        It's because we're really noisy, emitting lots of electromagnetic cruft and they're all trying to whisper-shout at us to keep the noise down before we wake up the Vogons!

        1. Bumpy Cat

          Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

          There's a very good bit in "The Three Body Problem" by Liu Cixin where a human manages to send a message into space, and the first reply received is "Shut the fuck up, they'll kill you if they find you!".

          1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
            Alien

            Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

            They are pointing laser at us because of cricket. Bad form, that game, very bad form. Brings back some very bad memories for most alien races out there

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

              It's the police telling us to get out of the multicultural neighborhood.

              1. Alister Silver badge

                Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

                'Morning, sir or madam or neuter,' the alien said. 'This your planet, is it?'

                'Well, yes. I suppose so.' he said.

                The alien stared thoughtfully at the skyline.

                'Had it long, have we, sir?' it said.

                'Er. Not personally. I mean, as a species, about half a million years. I think.'

                The alien exchanged glances with its colleague. 'Been letting the old acid rain build up, haven't we, sir?' it said. 'Been letting ourselves go a bit with the old hydrocarbons, perhaps?'

                'I'm sorry.'

                'Could you tell me your planet's albedo, sir?' said the the alien, still staring levelly at the horizon as though it was doing something interesting.

                'Er. No.'

                'Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you, sir, that your polar ice caps are below regulation size for a planet of this category, sir.'

        2. TitterYeNot
          Coat

          Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

          "It's because we're really noisy, emitting lots of electromagnetic cruft and they're all trying to whisper-shout at us to keep the noise down before we wake up the Vogons!"

          Pft! That's what they want us to think. The emissions are really a long range aggregated Shoe Shop Intensifier Ray being beamed at us by members of the Dolmansaxlil Interstellar Federation.

          And having just strolled down my local high street, it's working, believe me. Douglas Adams, he's always bloody right...

          1. Teiwaz Silver badge

            Re: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

            he emissions are really a long range aggregated Shoe Shop Intensifier Ray

            - They seem to mainly have it set to the female spectrum though - not surprising, fewer materials, higher returns and they buy more anyway, regardless of shoddy construction.

            First eden, and now death of civilisation by shoepocalypse.

          2. D@v3
            Pint

            Re: TitterYeNot

            I'd recently come to the conclusion that is was a mobile phone shop ray personally.

            A pint for the great man none the less.

            (I never could get the hang of Thursdays.)

      3. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge

        Re: As a transmitter, it is certainly powerful enough.

        Filling an absorption line should stand out like a sore thumb - and set alarm bells ringing... and they are all being pointed at us to lock on weapon systems.

        We need to accelerate that SkyNet programme if we are going to be able to defend ourselves...

      4. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: As a transmitter, it is certainly powerful enough.

        The question would be: why are they all pointing their lasers at us?

        - Well, space is very dark, maybe they are looking for a light switch?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Alien

          Here's why it would be pointing at us

          Well assuming the laser spreads out enough over such a distance that aiming at a star hits all the planets orbiting it, they could have a lot of lasers. Based on satellites orbiting and powered by their star, aimed at all the G type stars in their neighborhood. There needn't be any reason to assume they were deliberately choosing to signal Earth.

          Of course, maybe the message isn't intended for us, but for a giant being that lives inside our sun - letting him know that after 65 million years, dinner is served once again.

  6. TheProf Silver badge

    234

    Perhaps a Federation of Planets all using the same signal method as a way to attract the attention of other civilisations? I've heard dafter things.

    1. Timbo

      Re: 234

      "Perhaps a Federation of Planets all using the same signal method as a way to attract the attention of other civilisations? I've heard dafter things."

      But 234 of them all pointing at Earth ??

      I can imagine maybe pointing in 234 different directions...

      Or maybe there are thousands of these "light sources" pointing in multiple different directions and it just so happens that 234 of them, just by chance, point our way. :-)

      Unless of course they have been monitoring our radio signals since the first Marconi broadcast and decided to focus on our Solar System?

      So, say Marconi's first radio transmission was c1900 (give or take) then if aliens were listening out for us, those (v. weak) signals could be picked up say approx 115 light years away. But for a acknowledgement signal to come back then the senders can't be further than (say) 60 LY's away.

      If these 234 star "signals" are coming from stars further away than 60LY, then we can be pretty sure they are not focussing on us :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 234

        Unless their magical future tech can tell that we're a planet that may one day produce complex life and they've been shouting at us occasionally to see if we're advanced enough to recognise it yet.

        Bloody unlikely, of course.

      2. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: 234

        What if every star has these lasers, and the 234 in the study are the only ones pointing our way out of the millions of others?

        I know it's not very plausible, but - what can I say?

        I just like the idea of discovering that we've been in the middle of a galactic civilisation all along.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: 234

        "But 234 of them all pointing at Earth ??"

        Someone had their call to Atlantis dropped and now they've Facebooked it to their other mates that Atlantis has blocked them so now everyone is trying talk at once to find out what's going on and why is Atlantis being a twat?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 234

          Why should each star have only one laser? They could have a million laser satellites in orbit, all pointed at a different candidate star that might harbor life.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's Obviously

    A Disaster Area concert

  8. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Even if it is aliens

    which sort of message is more likely? "Here are the secrets of unlimited energy, antigravity, FTL drives and immortality" or ¨Enlarge your pseudopenes and MAKE £$CXZ!%ZX¥¤ FAST"

  9. xewill

    I'd like to point this out

    You know it's a good comment thread when you see a Douglas Adams and a Neil Gaiman reference. In this case it gets extra points for including Liu Cixin

    However, it is missing a Randall Munroe reference, so here it is https://xkcd.com/1377/

  10. Alistair
    Coat

    @Xewill

    Well -- the Moties got out by sending laser accelerated solar sail powered craft at us, perhaps these systems have discovered a specific frequency that works really really well.....

  11. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    You're all wrong... these are just the remains of the fireworks display to celebrate the 10,000th anniversary of some galactic empire, long ago, far away ...

    On a less jokey note: how egocentric (humanocentric?) to think that some sort of message from the stars should be sent specifically to us, given the odds.

    For all we know, it might just be a software glitch - or, as we are swapping authors, something like in "Exponentialdrift" by Andreas Eschbach.

    Anyway, the real news is the Chinchilla News' report on the upcoming 2018 Holden Commodore!

  12. Vinyl-Junkie
    Joke

    Oh El Reg...

    ...why did you have to go all Scully on us?

  13. strum

    >the absolutely thundering coincidence of hundreds of civilisations, independently working out the same communications technology at different times, so that hundreds of signals happen to arrive at Earth all at the same time?

    That's a pretty poor argument. We're (supposed to be) talking about a communications system. Comms systems are usually intended to communicate between more than one participants. Ideally, many participants would be using the same system.

    OK - it isn't, but this argument doesn't cut it.

    1. annodomini2
      Coffee/keyboard

      I think you mean broadcast system.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The look of confusion

    When one of them transmits "house!" and it all goes quiet for a bit.

    (for those outside UK http://h2g2.com/approved_entry/A3356499)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmph...

    So, you can't detect us? Big surprise. You're too busy abusing each other and being f***ups. 🚧

  16. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    It would cause riots

    Many people seem to be getting bent out of shape by the thought of having a few people coming here from Syria. Imagine the fuss if anyone from another star system were to visit. There would no doubt be a referendum and we'd end up voting to leave the Galaxy.

  17. Katie Saucey
    Happy

    'As any followers of the “Tabbi's Star” controversy will tell you, put “aliens” in a media release and you're bound to get the clicks'

    You got me.

  18. Petrea Mitchell

    Speaking of patterns

    If you take a look at Borra's past papers on arXiv.org, you'll see that statistical fishing expeditions are one of his specialties. In fact there's one that claims to find almost exactly the same kind of super-fast pulses buried in the noise from galactic centers.

  19. rtb61

    We are just starting to appreciate what can be done with advancing technology. So what are we going to see of more advanced aliens, only what they want us to see, end of story and we are starting to appreciate the basis of technology by which they can actively do that.

    The more advanced the less we will see, don't ever forget, their time for them to look for us, did not start with us looking for them, they will have had millions of years to look (like a child with their hands in front of the face, they can't see you because you can't see them, yep uh huh).

    So what difference does it make, fuck all, we have our own lives to live and our own challenges to overcome whether they are watching or not. Given how long they had to find us, yep uh huh, we are invisible says the child with their hands over their eyes.

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