October 11, 2010 – That’s what one scientist is claiming, saying he detected a suspicious light pulse in the vicinity of Gliese 581g two years ago. But the rest of the astronomy community is blasting his claims, accusing him of making a mistake…or worse.
Ragbir Bhathal, an astronomer at the University of Western Sydney, is a member of the Australian branch of SETI, the non-profit organization tasked with, among other things, looking for extraterrestrial radio signals of intelligent origin. Bhathal has told the Daily Mail online that, a couple years back, he detected a light pulse during his nightly search that came from the same part of the galaxy as Zarmina. He explains:
“Whenever there’s a clear night, I go up to the observatory and do a run on some of the celestial objects. Looking at one of these objects, we found this signal. We found this very sharp signal, sort of a laser lookalike thing which is the sort of thing we’re looking for – a very sharp spike. And that is what we found.”
So far, the scientific community has responded fairly negatively to these assertions, and not just because it seems rather unlikely that someone would announce the discovery of a signal so soon after Zarmina’s discovery. SETI legend Frank Drake, the creator of the famous Drake equation, says he’s tried to get more information from Bhathal, and he’s concerned about his colleague’s silence:
“I know the scientist, and when he first announced it, I asked him for the details, and he wouldn’t send them to me. I’m very suspicious. I’m not aware of the location that was claimed for the source of that light, and [Bhathal] refused to tell me where it came from. I think it’s very unlikely that it came from the direction of Gliese 581.”
Although Zarmina’s discoverer Steven Vogt has been fairly adamant that the planet supports life, he’s certainly never claimed there are intelligent, radio-capable beings on the planet. There are a few possibilities to explain this new claim. Bhathal might really have detected a potentially artificial laser source, but the light most likely couldn’t be Zarmina. He might have made an honest mistake in his observations, and it was just a phantom signal – certainly not unprecedented in the search for extraterrestrial life. Or, as Drake seems to imply, all or part of this claim could be less than true.
At this point, we’re skeptical bordering on outright dismissive, but we will certainly be interested to see the evidence and data Bhathal can provide to back up his claims – assuming he has any. For now, you can also check out our previous report on Bhathal’s work.