Astrophysicist: No, space aliens are never the answer to mystery radio signals

artist’s rendering of Swift detecting FRB/Spectrum Astro/NASA

From astrophysicist Paul Sutter at Space.com:

An unusually strong signal from a sun-like star. A repeated pattern that seems too precise to be natural. Bleeps and bloops from unknown sources with head-scratching signatures. Sure, there’s a ton of stuff in space that could potentially maybe kind-of-sort-of create those signals, but could this … be it? Could this be the key piece of evidence that answers one of the ultimate existential questions? Are we alone?

No serious astronomer ever wants to rush out and blurt, “Hey, everyone! I’ve found aliens!” But at the same time, there’s a strong desire to get your name in the history books. So when these signals pop up, you get lots of shrugging and hemming and hawing and “Look, we’re pretty sure it’s natural, but we can’t rule out aliens,” kind of talk.

He helpfully details several instances since the 1960s.

Here’s the thing: The hypothesis that aliens are causing a mysterious radio signal is almost always useless, because intelligent creatures can create almost any signal they want. Hear a bleep-bleep-bloop? Maybe aliens did it. Whoops! I meant bloop-bloop-bleep. Well, aliens could have done that, too. There’s no predictive power in the “aliens did it” hypothesis. We can’t ever disprove it. More.

Yes, that is precisely the difference intelligence makes. We would need to study the intelligence as well as the pattern to read the meaning in full.

The whole concept of space aliens is actually a modern adaptation of the ancient belief that the heavens are peopled with being like ourselves. That’s why it felt so strange that NASA was helping fund a project to find out how world religions would react to NASA’s potential discovery of extraterrestrial life—most likely, bacteria on Mars.

Doubtless, the bax will be a great disappointment to those who expected gods, kings, heroes, saints, and scholars, but whatever. They’ll go on believing whatever they want anyway, just as ci-fi aficionados do,

Part of the difficulty is emotional: We just can’ be alone. But maybe we are. And we don’t know, which is th worst thing about it.

One thing we can expect is more signals, from within and without.

See also: With a signal (at last!), mystery around fast radio bursts only deepens

NASA cares what your religion thinks about ET One would expect that those world religions that care much one way or the other if NASA finds bacteria in space could fund their own examination of the question.

NASA to get bigger space exploration budget?
Goal of sending humans to the edge of the solar system by the end of the century

and

How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there?

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