A mysterious signal from the stars may finally have been explained, 45 years after it was received.
The minute-long burst of radio energy known as the “Wow signal” has kept scientists speculating about its origins since it was received on August 15, 1977.
While no-one has been able to detect a message hidden in the signal, it remains the most convincing candidate for a signal from an alien world.
And now, scientists have a better idea of where that world could be.
Astronomer Alberto Caballero has isolated a star, roughly the same size as our own Sun, that’s exactly where the source of the signal appeared to be.
Named after a stunned astronomer scribbled 'wow!" on a printout of the data, The Wow! Signal is considered "the best SETI candidate radio signal that we have picked up with our telescopes,” Alberto told Live Science.
And he has now identified a potential source of the mysterious signal.
He painstakingly went though images collected by the European Space Agency's Gaia mission, which used a billion-pixel camera to image our galaxy in unprecedented detail.
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Focusing on two areas where the signal could have come from, he examined every star in turn, looking for K-type star systems, which are believed to be hospitable to life as we know it, and G-type stars – like our own Sun.
One of the candidates, listed as 2MASS 19281982-2640123, is almost exactly like the Sun in terms of its size and its energy output.
"There is a solar analog in the region where the most alien-like signal has come from,” Alberto says.
While no planets have as yet been detected in orbit around the distant star, some 1,800 light-years from Earth, Alberto’s discovery could point the way to the identification of extraterrestrial civilisation.
His findings were published May 6 in the International Journal of Astrobiology.
It would take centuries for any signal from Earth to reach 2MASS, but Alberto suggests that the next step should be an intensive study of the alien star system, searching for exoplanets and – if we find them – traces in their atmospheres that might hint at industrial pollution and other signs of technological civilisation.
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