Monday 26 September 2016

Ireland to the forefront of the search for signs of alien life in deep space as Russians detect mystery planet signal

Published 10/09/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has his own Close Encounter of the Third Kind at the Franchise Show in the RDS. Photo: Rollingnews.ie
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has his own Close Encounter of the Third Kind at the Franchise Show in the RDS. Photo: Rollingnews.ie

ET may be trying to contact Earth - and aliens just might receive their reply in an Irish accent.

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Irish space researchers were astonished when it emerged a remote Russian observatory detected a strong signal from a planet 94 light years from Earth.

The signal, which researchers say is unlikely to have been caused by a comet or solar storm, was detected from the distant star HD 164595.

The star is so far from Earth that it could not have received TV or radar signals from our atmosphere.

However, the excitement over the nature of the signal from the remote star - which one expert insisted was a potential indicator of alien life - has energised Irish astronomy teams.

Cork Institute of Technology's Dr Niall Smith said while most Irish research is focused on the workings of the galaxy, the possibility of extraterrestrial life is never dismissed.

"Most great discoveries are found by chance," he said.

"Irish teams tend to focus on stars and the workings of the galaxies.

"But the very fact that we are looking at space means we are well placed to spot something else if it happens."

"The Russians were looking at something entirely different when they detected that strange signal. It certainly wasn't what they were looking for."

"No-one is really sure what is involved - whether it is some physics phenomenon we have never seen before or, as some have claimed, a sign of extraterrestrial life. But, without another station corroborating the signal, a lot of people will remain sceptical."

Ireland is now to the forefront of deep space study.

A Trinity College Dublin (TCD) team under Dr Peter Gallagher is to shortly commission a major radio-telescope in Birr, Co Offaly.

While it will be tasked with examining the workings of the galaxy, Dr Smith said it has the potential to pick up any possible signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Next year, CIT is helping to bring the International Space University (ISU) to Ireland - and the ongoing hunt for signs of alien life will be a major topic involved.

The National Space Centre in Cork is also hoping to utilise one of the largest antennae in the world to assist in the search for alien life. A 32m wide antenna dish, currently located at the Elfordstown Earth Station in Midleton, Co Cork, is currently the focus of a €10m refurbishment campaign.

EES director, Rory Fitzpatrick, said that Ireland is already playing an exciting role in deep space study.

"No-one knows what extraterrestrial intelligence or alien life will look like. But I believe it will be found on other planets in space," he said. Mr Fitzpatrick said that advanced telescopes and radio-antenna will play a critical role in detected the first signals of such life and possible civilizations.

The signal from HD 164595 and the discovery of the potentially life-supporting planet, Proxima B, have underlined the potential of that quest.

Unlike HD 164595, Proxima B is 'only' four light years away from Earth.

The east Cork antenna dish weighs a whopping 220 tonnes and was originally built to support transatlantic communications.

Irish Independent

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