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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Astronomers deny ET signal report
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Arecibo radio telescope
The giant Arecibo telescope is used to scan the skies
Astronomers have moved swiftly to quell speculation they may have received a deep-space radio signal from ET.

It was reported on the internet that the signal had been found using the Seti@home screensaver that uses computer downtime to analyse sky data from telescopes.

But researchers connected with the project told BBC News Online on Thursday that no contact with extraterrestrials had been made.

"It's all hype and noise," said its chief scientist, Dr Dan Wertheimer. "We have nothing that is unusual. It's all out of proportion."

And Dr Paul Horowitz, of Harvard University, who specialises in hunting for possible alien contacts added: "It's not much of anything at all. We're not investigating it further."

Not a signal

For six years, the Seti@home project has used a downloadable screensaver on millions of computers around the world to sift through data for anything unusual.

The data has been collected by radio telescopes scanning the sky for any unusual signals from space.

At the moment, we have no candidates that we are particularly excited about
Dr Dan Wertheimer
It is believed that any extraterrestrial intelligence might want to send radio messages across the cosmos to make contact with other intelligences.

Over the years, Seti@home has detected many hundreds of thousands of spurious signals and has used statistical techniques to identify them as interference.

About 150 signals survived the process and were subjected to further scrutiny but none passed the final test to be classed as a potential signal from ET.

Large numbers

The "signal" that kicked off furious media excitement on Thursday is called SHGb02+14a and was first detected by computers running Seti@home software in Germany and the US.

It has a frequency of 1420 megahertz - one of the principal frequencies of the most abundant element hydrogen.

Speaking to BBC News Online from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, where he is preparing an observing run to follow up Seti@home analysis, Dr Wertheimer said: "It's all hype. We don't have anything we are excited about.

"At the moment, we have no candidates that we are particularly excited about and the new 'signal' is not a priority."

He continued: "With Seti@home having analysed some 50 trillion frequency bands, it is not surprising that a signal like this occurs purely due to chance."

Dr Horowitz, who looks for alien signals using optical telescopes, told BBC News Online that it was "not new and definitely not a signal".

The BBC's Christine McGourty
"This may well be a false alarm"

Alien probe 'best way to find ET'
01 Sep 04  |  Science/Nature
Radio search for ET draws a blank
25 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
ET hunters take closer look
18 Mar 03  |  Science/Nature

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