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Scientists tune in to 'radio message from the aliens'
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 02/09/2004)

A radio signal picked up by a search for extraterrestrial intelligence marks the best candidate yet for "first contact" by aliens.

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The signal was traced to a point between the constellations Pisces and Aires, according to New Scientist.

Astronomers who have been scanning the universe for years seeking contact with intelligent life said it stood out as being "unusual".

The signal has been observed for only about a minute, not long enough to allow astronomers to analyse it in detail.

It is unlikely to be the result of any obvious radio interference or noise, and does not bear the hallmark of any known astronomical object.

Although it is the best candidate yet for contact with an alien life form, the astronomers say that it may turn out to be an unknown astronomical phenomenon, or simply a blemish produced by the telescope.

For six years, the SETI@home project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), has used programs running as screensavers on millions of PCs worldwide to sift signals picked up by the Arecibo telescope, in Puerto Rico. David Anderson, the project's director, said he was intrigued by the signal but sceptical.

According to a new paper in Nature, we might be more successful searching our own backyard for clues to other life forms.

The article by Dr Gregory Wright and Christopher Rose, the professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, suggests that to discover if we are alone, we should look for signs in our planetary backyard, akin to the monolith in Arthur C Clarke's 2001.

They calculate that inscribing information and physically sending it to some location in deep space is more energy-efficient than using radio waves, which disperse.

"Think of a flashlight beam," says Prof Rose. "Its intensity decreases as it gets farther from its source." The same goes for radio waves.

However, a physical message stays where it lands. As for the form of alien messages, he speculates that it could be anything from text in a real language to, more likely, organic material embedded in an asteroid or in a crater.

Prof Rose suggests that there may be many messages, perhaps millions.

1 September 2004: Planet hunters find Earth's 'big brothers'

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