• A University of Toronto team created an algorithm to organize telescope data to weed out interference.
  • The scientists claim this will help the search for an advanced extraterrestrial civilization sending “technosignatures.”
  • The algorithm found eight new radio signals from five different stars.

A new machine learning-operated algorithm just detected eight new radio signals coming from five stars that are 30 to 90 lightyears away. While the signals probably aren’t from extraterrestrials, we also don’t know for sure.

Maybe the aliens are communicating using “technosignatures” and we’re just now finding them for the first time.

The scientists behind the algorithm, from the University of Toronto, say they’ve “streamlined the search for extraterrestrial life by using a new algorithm to organize the data from their telescopes.” Using machine learning, the algorithm weeds out human-made interference to allow scientists to focus on real signals from deep space and then find patterns in that information that could show they came from technologically generated signals.

“We need to distinguish the exciting radio signals in space from the uninteresting radio signals from Earth,” Peter Ma, a Toronto undergraduate student the lead author on the new paper, which appears in Nature Astronomy, says in a news release.

Of course, even though the signals appear the way the scientists expect extraterrestrial signals to look, they say they aren’t yet convinced aliens are behind them. But they’re hoping to see the same signals again to increase the chances that these have some extra meaning.

The scientists aren’t giving up and hope to focus the new algorithm on an even larger set of radio telescopes.

“With the help of artificial intelligence,” Cherry Ng, research associate at Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, says in the news release, “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to better quantify the likelihood of the presence of extraterrestrial signals from other civilizations.”

Headshot of Tim Newcomb

Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland. 


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