Humanity has been trying to contact life forms outside the earth ever since technology has allowed it. This has been such a prevalent topic in the world of science that it has been a significant influence on an incredibly large amount of media: movies, tv shows, books; and also many people.
One of the most crucial examples of this search for aliens is the Wow! signal. The Wow! signal “was a strong narrowband radio signal” detected by Jerry H. Ehman on August 15th, 1977 (Wow! signal). A few days after he recorded the data from the wave, he found an anomaly in it and it impressed him so much that he circled it and wrote “Wow!” in red letters right next to it. This is how the wave got its name, and this anomaly was and still is the most probable candidate for an extraterrestrial signal (Wow! signal).
Very recently, scientists from China thought they achieved the same thing when they detected a signal with a frequency of 140.604 MHz, a frequency that does not occur naturally. This detection was made on the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), pointed towards an exoplanet called Kepler 438, or a rocky planet about 1.5 times the size of the earth (Overbye).
After detecting this signal, a report was published in Science and Technology Daily, a newspaper published by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. This report included details of the detection as the researchers claimed that “the mysterious frequencies were unlike anything they’d previously encountered” and that they would be investigating further (O’Neill). One FAST official went on to claim that “it was ‘likely’ the signals were of extraterrestrial origin” (Young).
However, the report was taken off the Science and Technology Daily website a day after it was published, causing confusion just as the article began to =spread worldwide. Though, the public concluded that the report was likely taken down due to the uncertainty of the reported observations.
Despite the initial comments hinting at exterrestrial life, many other experts claimed that these signals were, in fact, not from extraterrestrial life, or namely, aliens. The frequency that was caught by the telescope was one that could not be produced naturally, however, it was still one that human-made devices could produce. This is why many scientists now argue that the telescope picked up human interference and it was analysed as being extraterrestrial. Dan Werthimer, co-author of FAST research, said that “the narrow-band radio signals he and his fellow researchers detected ‘are from [human] radio interference, and not from extraterrestrials’” (Young). This means that the telescope could have easily picked up man-made signals such as those of telecommunication devices, radars, or satellites.
Wertheimer also claimed that “If you’re kind of new in the game, and you don’t know all these different ways that interference can get into your data and corrupt it, it’s pretty easy to get excited” (Young). It is easy for the researchers to get excited and even more so for the general public, resulting in widespread news in little time.
The likelihood that the FAST signal came from a man-made source does not mean that humanity will or should stop looking for extraterrestrial life. With big mysteries such as the Wow! Signal yet to have been solved, with many other signals that have been detected but not explained, the science community still has much to explore.
What this incident can indicate, though, is that the media involvement in such matters can easily promote the spread of misinformation or faulty conclusions. A small spark such as an unidentifiable signal or an anomaly in a report could draw upon a fire of speculations and theories about extraterrestrial life, even at the lack of scientific backing.
Algar, Selim. “Researchers Knock down Chinese Claims That It Caught Alien Signals at Telescope.” New York Post, New York Post, 18 June 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/06/18/researchers-dispute-chinese-claims-that-it-caught-alien-signals/.
O’Neill, Natalie. “China Says It May Have Detected Aliens, Then Deletes Report.” New York Post, New York Post, 15 June 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/06/15/china-says-it-may-have-detected-aliens-then-deletes-report/.
Overbye, Dennis. “A Chinese Telescope Did Not Find an Alien Signal. the Search Continues.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 June 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/18/science/china-alien-signal.html.
“Wow! Signal.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 June 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wow!_signal#Hypotheses_on_the_signal's_origin.
Young, Chris. “Fact Check: China’s Fast Telescope Didn’t Just Detect Aliens. Here’s What We Know.” Interesting Engineering, Interesting Engineering, 20 June 2022, https://interestingengineering.com/china-fast-telescope-alien-life-humans.