"I'm not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens," is a phrase that is generally associated with a particular big-haired Ancient Aliens theorist, but Mr. Tsoukalos isn't the only one saying it now.
A new study is looking to extraterrestrial life as the cause of a set of mysterious modulations emanating from a group of stars. These signals could be extraterrestrial life hoping to alert others out in space of their existence, much in the way former reality show celebrities join Dancing With the Stars to let people know they still exist.
The study has found these very specific modulations coming from just 234 of 2.5 million stars surveyed. That means a tiny fraction of these stars are behaving in a strange, but similar manner. The search for an explanation of these signals led the paper's authors to conclude, well, aliens.
"We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an [extraterrestrial intelligence] signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis," say Ermanno Borra and Eric Trottier from Laval University in Canada, the paper's authors. "The fact that they are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centered near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis."
The previous publication being referred to is work done by Borra on predicting the shape of signals that an extraterrestrial civilization might use to alert others of their existence. These 234 signals match that prediction.
The paper, titled "Signals Probably From Extraterrestrial Intelligence," is coming out in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. While these are strong statements, the authors are firm on referring to this as a hypothesis, saying there's lots of work to be done before this kind of hypothesis could be confirmed. They'll need to begin by looking for the signals to repeat using different equipment as they begin to eliminate other possible explanations for the signals.
The hypothesis is out there, but it's being taken seriously by many in the scientific community. The Breakthrough Listen Initiative, an organization established this year to look for alien life that counts Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg among its board members, finds the evidence promising.
"The one in 10,000 objects with unusual spectra seen by Borra and Trottier are certainly worthy of additional study," Breakthrough Listen said in a statement promising follow-up research. "However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
“It is too early to unequivocally attribute these purported signals to the activities of extraterrestrial civilizations. Internationally agreed-upon protocols for searches for evidence of advanced life beyond Earth (SETI) require candidates to be confirmed by independent groups using their own telescopes, and for all natural explanations to be exhausted before invoking extraterrestrial agents as an explanation.
“Careful work must be undertaken to determine false positive rates, to rule out natural and instrumental explanations, and most importantly, to confirm detections using two or more independent telescopes.” Suffice to say, it will be a long time before anyone is willing to confirm that these signals are likely extraterrestrial in nature, despite the authors' of the paper stating that they're "probably" extraterrestrial.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.