When the scientists are stumped, you know they're onto something.
A group that's at the forefront of the search for alien life has found some strange radio signals from space — and they're as confused by their origins as we are.
Speaking to New Atlas, University of Toronto student Peter Ma described the incredible — and "suspicious" — findings from a new machine learning algorithm he developed and brought to Breakthrough Listen, an Australia-based program that's pioneering new frontiers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
"Eight signals looked very suspicious, but after we took another look at the targets with our telescopes, we didn’t see them again," Ma told New Atlas. "It’s been almost five to six years since we took the data, but we still haven’t seen the signal again. Make of that what you will."
As Ma tells the science outlet, the process of identifying potentially intelligent radio signals from deep space is grueling. After training the algorithm on simulated extraterrestrial signals that would be of interest, Breakthrough Listen's researchers then fed the machine a previously-studied dataset of 3 million radio signals, and then manually combed through everything it flagged.
In the case of their most recent study, published last month in the journal Nature Astronomy, the algorithm fed back a whopping 20,515 "signals of interest," and after going through them all, the team narrowed it down to eight truly weird potential "technosignatures."
Tick Tick Boom
Writing in The Conversation following the publication of the Nature paper, Breakthrough Listen astronomer Daniel Price prophesied that humanity is on the verge of an AI "Big Bang" — and that his organization's work is at the forefront of this somewhat-welcome cataclysm.
Price admits in his editorial that it's probable those eight suspicious signals are "rare cases of radio interference" than legitimate signs of extraterrestrial life, but he argued they're nevertheless worthy of study for no other reason than helping humans (and their AI assistants) know what can be explained and what can't.
"If astronomers do manage to detect a technosignature that can’t be explained away as interference, it would strongly suggest humans aren’t the sole creators of technology within the Galaxy," he wrote. "This would be one of the most profound discoveries imaginable."
And honestly, we couldn't put it any better than that.
More on weird radio signals: Astronomers Intrigued by 25 Mysterious Repeating Radio Signals From Deep Space