When astrophysicist Doug Vakoch heard the news that there might be an alien civilization nearby the enigmatic star KIC 8462852, he took instant action.
For the last week, Vakoch and his associates at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute have been pointing the ground-based Allen Telescope Array in California at the mysterious star with one objective in mind.
"We're trying to rule out the proposition that maybe it's intelligence out there," Vakoch told Business Insider. He added that they are going through the data in real-time and will, consequently, know if it's ET within the next week, or so.
Last week, news broke that a strange gathering of objects unlike anything astrophysicists have witnessed before is in orbit about star KIC 8462852. And until more data comes in, assumption is raging that it could be a megastructure in the process of construction by a progressive alien civilization — however astrophysicists have told Business Insider that the odds of that are "very low."
"Our supposition is that there's going to be a natural clarification for this, we just have not gotten clever sufficient to find it," Vakoch told Business Insider.
Vakoch is the director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute with an extraordinary concern in how to design outgoing messages that would express what it's like to be human. For now, however, Vakoch has all his attention on the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and what it will discover — if anything — around KIC 8462852.
The ATA is a radio telescope that can tune in to 9 billion different frequencies between 1 and 10 GigaHertz. What Vakoch is hunting for is a strong signal at a precise frequency, which will tell him that something, or someone, is communicating from the star's system.
Since the big news, Vakoch and his assosiates are the first to discover this star for possible alien habitation. Though, because the ATA observes in radio frequencies, that's about all they can do. They can't, for example, conclude the composition of this enigmatic material to define what it is, which is what Penn State astrophysicist Jason Wright hopes to do in the coming months.
Still, Vakoch's job is of extreme significance and far from easy.
"We're searching for a signal at one spot on the radio dial, and the difficulty is we do not know which spot" he told Business Insider. "And so we tune the dial to billions of different channels. It's practically like we're searching the cosmic cable TV but instead of trying to find anything on 400 or 500 channels, we're observing billions of channels." Complicating matters further are the space satellites and radio transmitters on Earth that send signals in the same frequency range the ATA is heeding to. So, to make sure any signals they detect are from aliens and not Earthlings, the SETI researchers tune the telescope to three separate stars at the precise same time.
"What we need to find is a signal coming from one of those stars and not from the other two," Vakoch said. "What we normally find is that if there's a satellite hovering over it's in our telescope and it's going to appear like we're receiving that signal at all three of those stars, and then we know it's a false alarm."
When astrophysicists tune ATA to an explicit object, all 42 antennae move to a specific point in the sky:
Out of most SETI instruments, the ATA is flawless for this job, Vakoch said. That's since it enables the researchers to crunch the data in real-time — something not many other SETI instrument can do — so if they hear an interesting signal, they'll focus in to learn more. Vakoch thinks that observations will end soon at which point they'll straightway start writing up their fallouts and put them through the coveted peer-review process that is the backbone of any reputable scientific discovery.
More essentially, this means that if the researchers have discovered something, then they already know. But they won't be saying anything for at least a few weeks.
"So you can assume it to be numerous weeks or months until you here the deductions of our observations, even though we may be wrapping them up in the next week or so," Vakoch said.
Is it aliens? Vakoch doubts no.
"I think the best clarification I've observed so far is ... a swarm of comets," he said. Though, if the scientists do find something it will be huge.
"If we find what we're searching for it will tell us one of two things: Either we have discovered an extraterrestrial that is sending us a signal that's very same to our own radio technology, or we have found a completely new natural phenomenon that makes this star system even weirder than it is right now."
Author: Jessica Orwig
Article Originally Published on: Business Insider
[Edited for Text & Content]
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