In February 2003, astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) pointed the massive radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, at around 200 sections of the sky.



The same telescope had previously detected unexplained radio signals at least twice from each of these regions, and the astronomers were trying to reconfirm the findings. The team has now finished analysing the data, and all the signals seem to have disappeared. Except one, which has got stronger.


This radio signal, now seen on three separate occasions, is an enigma. It could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon. Or it could be something much more mundane, maybe an artefact of the telescope itself.



But it also happens to be the best candidate yet for a contact by intelligent aliens in the nearly six-year history of the [email protected] project, which uses programs running as screensavers on millions of personal computers worldwide to sift through signals picked up by the Arecibo telescope.



“It’s the most interesting signal from [email protected],” says Dan Werthimer, a radio astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and the chief scientist for [email protected] “We’re not jumping up and down, but we are continuing to observe it.”



Named SHGb02+14a, the signal has a frequency of about 1420 megahertz. This happens to be one of the main frequencies at which hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, readily absorbs and emits energy.



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