Recently scientists experienced a brief thrill of excitement when a Russian radio telescope detected a strong radio signal apparently coming from a star called HD 164595, residing 94.4 light years away from Earth in the constellation Hercules. Perturbed that the Russians had waited for months before sharing this bit of news, SETI scientists scrambled to place the star under observation to see if any other signals were forthcoming.

None were and, as Eric Berger of Ars Technica reports, the Russians have had to sheepishly admit that the signal likely was of Earth origin.  Another possible discovery of aliens has gone bust.

A signal thought to come from Space but actually coming from Earth has happened once before. CNET reported recently that the radio telescope at Parkes. Australia picked up something called a peryton, a fast radio burst of unknown origin.

It turned out that the dish, popularized in an Australian film “The Dish” about the mission of Apollo 11, was detecting something of a more terrestrial origin. The fast radio bursts were being produced by older microwave ovens. When the doors were opened before the ovens were done, a brief radio burst was emitted that was then picked up by the dish. The phenomenon was unique to a certain brand of an older microwave that still worked as they were supposed to.

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The good news that these types of fast radio bursts can be of space origin as well, likely as the result of a supernova or the collision of two stellar objects. But the upshot is that radio observatories need to make sure that their nearby kitchen equipment is up to date and does not interfere with their dish’s operation.

The story should also serve as an object lesson to the media. While scientists, ever cautious about pronouncing the discovery of alien radio signals, were cautioning that the Russian signal could be of a natural origin, some media outlets were furiously reporting that aliens may have been found.

To be sure, such a discovery would be the story of the century. But, as it turns out, it hasn’t happened yet.

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