Ross 128: Mystery Radio Signals Detected from Red Dwarf Star Just 11 Light Years Away

Scientists have discovered mystery signals coming from a star 11 light years away. The “very peculiar” pulses appear to be unique to the red dwarf, scientists say, with observations of similar nearby stars showing no similar behavior.

Researchers at the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, were observing a group of red dwarf stars in a bid to identify planets and other objects orbiting them. In April and May, the team recorded information coming from Gliese 436,  Ross 128,  Wolf 359,  HD 95735,  BD +202465,  V* RY Sex, and  K2-18.

After analyzing the data, they noticed something odd. One of the stars—Ross 128—had been emitting strange radio signals. In a blog post, Abel Méndez, Director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, said the origin of the radio signals is not known.

“We realized that there were some very peculiar signals in the 10-minute dynamic spectrum that we obtained from Ross 128,” he wrote. “The signals consisted of broadband quasi-periodic non-polarized pulses with very strong dispersion-like features. We believe that the signals are not local radio frequency interferences since they are unique to Ross 128 and observations of other stars immediately before and after did not show anything similar.”

virgo Ross 128 is a small red dwarf star in the constellation of Virgo. ESA/NASA

So what could they be? Scientists have three main potential explanations at the moment—they could be emissions similar to a Type II solar flare, emissions from another object in the field of view of the star or that they are coming from a high orbit satellite near Ross 128.

“Each of the possible explanations has their own problems,” Méndez wrote. “For example, Type II solar flares occur at much lower frequencies and the dispersion suggests a much farther source or a dense electron field (e.g. the stellar atmosphere?). Also, there are not many nearby objects in the field of view of Ross 128 and we have never seen satellites emit bursts like that, which were common in our other star observations.

“In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations.”

To probe the signals further, scientists were able to carry out further observations on Sunday. From the latest data, they hope to be able to work out what was causing the radio signals. Méndez confirmed the observation had been a success on Monday. Results will be presented later this week.

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