Radio astronomer here! This kinda blew up yesterday, but I had work to do so didn’t notice the post until it was too late to say my thoughts on it, so I am sharing them now.
In short, there is a campaign in radio astronomy to listen to red dwarf stars using Arecibo, the giant dish in Puerto Rico that was in *Contact* and *Goldeneye*, and posted [a blog post](http://phl.upr.edu/library/notes/ross128). The TL;DR of it is they found some weird signals from a nearby red dwarf star, Ross 128, and wanted some other observatories to check it out ASAP.
You read that right- ***a blog post***. I mean, I’m not saying astronomers don’t take to various social media outlets with unpublished findings to chat amongst themselves and sometimes even coordinate other observations- the recent [dimming of Tabby’s star ](http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/deep-space/a26575/something-weird-is-happening-to-the-alien-megastructure-star/) was actually posted on Twitter as well as the “proper” channels to make sure people knew about it. But does that mean it’s worth freaking out over? Hells no! This is nowhere near that stage!
To explain further, usually in science, as many people know, we tend to write up our research in papers, which undergo peer review. I think the paper system has some issues with it personally which I won’t go into here, but the real point of them is you want to explain to other people what you did, what you found, and what you think it might mean. A blog post does *not* tell you that. Reading the post over they sound intentionally vague on details, likely because these are results they will want to publish in the future. One example? They don’t specify a frequency, and instead only say their signal is in the range of 4-5 GHz. This is a *huge* range that frankly doesn’t tell you much- for comparison, your FM radio band is about 20 MHz wide. Think about how much stuff you can find just tuning that, and then remember a GHz is 1,000 MHz, and ponder for a moment just how well you’d find a faint radio signal if you were to just keep punching the auto-tune button.
So I don’t think the guys who wrote the post are at fault here, because as I said I think they were likely just trying to figure out what they had on their hands in something that was potentially time-sensitive (even solar flare type things don’t last super long, for example). Which is why I also suspect they wrote a quick explanation about all the mundane reasons which are much more likely for an odd radio signal, even though this wasn’t a paper where these ideas would be considered in much more detail and context. Not like it mattered- everyone picked it up anyway, because “weird signal” must mean “aliens!” Even the friggin’ *Atlantic Monthly* [called it a “transmission”](https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/the-strange-radio-signals-coming-from-a-nearby-star-ross-128/533907/) as if no one would think of aliens first! (For clarity: natural radio signals are not the result of transmissions. Transmissions are things intelligent beings send to converse with one another.) Note, the blog post does not do that- they are in fact very careful to not freak out in excitement over what this new signal could be. This was purely fabricated by the media, even the sources you’d think are far more respectable.
Listen, I know what’s up- we unfortunately don’t have this phrase in English, but in Hungarian and Dutch (the two other languages I’m most familiar with- yeah, super useful) we refer to this time of the year as “cucumber season.” What this means is summer rarely has many exciting stories going on in it, so the little things get really played up- the hunter shooting the lion in Zimbabwe a year or two back in summer was the *perfect* example of this. So yeah, this moment of “hey, that’s a weird signal” but saying nothing more is *definitely* a cucumber season story. It certainly doesn’t merit a mention at this stage in credible news media because there’s so many ifs associated with it, but that doesn’t generate clicks to your website, now does it?
By the way, if anyone asks, my money is on this just being an unusual type of [flare star](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flare_star)- basically, most red dwarfs have crazy souped up solar flares that make our sun’s look like a candle by a bolt of lightning, and I don’t think it’s inconceivable that there is some higher frequency emission associated with it than we usually see. Which would be really cool! But wouldn’t be all thrown up in the news media like this story has been.