The 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory will take a closer look at a red dwarf star known as Ross 128 after picking up what one astronomer said were “some very peculiar signals” during a 10-minute observing session in May.
“The signals consisted of broadband quasi-periodic non-polarized pulses with very strong dispersion-like features,” Abel Mendez, a planetary astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, said in an online advisory. Mendez is also director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory.
Mendez said the signal did not appear to be earthly interference, “since they are unique to Ross 128, and observations of other stars immediately before and after did not show anything similar.”
He said the most likely explanations for the signals are that they’re flare-type emissions from the star, or emissions from another object in the field of view, or a radio burst from a satellite in high orbit.
“Each of the possible explanations has their own problems,” Mendez wrote. He added, “In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations.”
For what it’s worth, Ross 128, also known as FI Virginis, has served as the setting for several science-fiction stories and video games about alien encounters. It’s a little less than 11 light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo.
The new round of Arecibo observations is scheduled for Sunday, but Mendez said “there are no guarantees” that those observations will solve the mystery.
“I have a Piña Colada ready to celebrate if the signals result to be astronomical in nature,” he joked.
Arecibo will also take part in a multi-telescope campaign to observe Barnard’s Star, a low-mass red dwarf that’s less than 6 light-years away. The Red Dots campaign aims to look for evidence of planets around nearby red dwarfs. The target stars also include Proxima Centauri, which was found to harbor at least one potentially habitable planet.