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March 5, 2020 at 9:13 am

Hicks in Dispatch | Signals from Outer Space Remain a Mystery

Dr. Kenneth Hicks, portrait

Dr. Kenneth Hicks

Dr. Kenneth Hicks, Professor of Physics & Astronomy at Ohio University, authored a column in the Columbus Dispatch headlined “Astronomy | Signals from outer space remain a mystery.”

If an alien civilization were trying to contact us here on Earth, how would they do it?

In the 1997 movie “Contact,” the fictional alien signal came via radio waves, detected by a large radio telescope (which looked like a larger version of the receivers that pick up satellite TV). Radio telescopes like those do exist and record all kinds of signals from deep space.

If you were listening for a signal from aliens, you might expect to get short high-intensity radio bursts at regular intervals from one location of the sky. Astronomers have detected FRBs — Fast Radio Bursts — but with irregular patterns and they come from all over the sky. The classic FRB lasts for only about one-thousandth of a second and might not be detected again from that part of the sky for days or even years.

The irregularity of FRBs makes them hard to locate. You can’t take a radio telescope and have it focused on just one part of the sky for days at a time. Competition for telescope time is a factor and there are other interesting things to consider. But scientists are clever at finding other ways to look for radio signals from space….

Read more in the Columbus Dispatch.

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