SETI Institute

SETI League


SETI League Press Release

Apparent Hoax Dismays SETI Scientists

LITTLE FERRY, NJ.., October, 1998 -- Claims in the press beginning on 28 October 1998 about an intelligently generated signal from the vicinity of the nearby binary star system EQ Pegasi are the result of either an elaborate hoax or severely flawed science, according to SETI League executive director Dr. H. Paul Shuch. This SETI "hit" was allegedly received by an amateur in England. The nonprofit, membership-supported SETI League has been analyzing this claim since October 23rd. None of its 63 active observing stations around the world has been able to confirm it. The signal was reported anonymously in a message hacked into a closed (private) signal verification email list. Subsequently, the hacker went to the BBC, which broke the story. The perpetrator asserts that he/she is not a SETI League member, which is scant consolation to that scientific body.

The "signal" has been thoroughly discredited by a host of radio astronomers, amateur and professional, who have analyzed the images posted to the Internet. The person who reported the alleged signals has violated every principle of responsible science. He or she has not followed the carefully crafted SETI League signal detection protocols (see to which all SETI League participating stations are signatory. The person has not adhered to international policies regarding signal verification (see This amateur radio astronomer has not identified himself or herself, and not answered private emails from either the SETI League's Executive Director or its volunteer Regional Coordinator in England, making any meaningful follow-up impossible. And he has not waited for backup analysis before announcing his "find" to the press. If this is not a blatant hoax, it is the worst kind of irresponsible science (the kind which gives all credible scientific endeavors a bad name).

"Anonymity and scientific integrity are mutually exclusive," says Shuch. "A responsible scientist, amateur or professional, takes ownership of his or her mistakes as well as accomplishments. One of the responsibilities of scientific organizations like The SETI League is to help the media make that distinction."

SETI scientists seek to determine through microwave measurements whether humankind is alone in the universe. Since Congress terminated NASA's SETI funding in 1993, The SETI League and other scientific groups have been attempting to privatize the research. Experimenters interested in participating in the search for intelligent alien life, or citizens wishing to help support it, should email to, check the SETI League Website at, send a fax to 1 (201) 641-1771, or contact The SETI League, Inc. membership hotline at 1 (800) TAU-SETI. Be sure to provide us with a postal address to which we will mail further information. The SETI League, Inc. is a membership-supported, non-profit [501(c)(3)], educational and scientific corporation dedicated to the electromagnetic Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.


November 4, 1998

Below can be found the opinion of Dr. Seth Shostak on the rumours that alien signals from another star system were detected:

SETI Institute - 2035 Landings Drive - Mountain View, CA 94043

Many visitors to the SETI site may be aware of the claims of an amateur astronomer in Great Britain, Paul Dore, to have found an extraterrestrial signal in the direction of the star system EQ Pegasi. While some attention has been paid to this claim by the (mostly British) media, there is every indication that the claim is either an unrecognized detection of terrestrial interference or a deliberate prank.

The star system in question, a pair of M-type dwarfs approximately 21 light-years distant, was the subject of observations by Project Phoenix at Arecibo in September. My report of this observation (and a similar report written by me and published by MSNBC) noted that an interesting candidate signal was found while Jill Tarter and I were observing EQ Peg at 1210 MHz, but that within ten minutes we had detected the signal in the "off" position, proving that it was terrestrial interference. The write-up was intended to give readers a feel for what it's like to be at the telescope, and how we deal with the occasional interesting candidate. Note that during the September run we continued to observe EQ Peg at other frequencies between approximately 1,200 and 3,000 MHz without finding any signal. Note also that the Arecibo telescope, with its large collecting area and low-noise amplifiers, is many thousands of times more sensitive than the equipment used by Mr. Dore.

Why do SETI astronomers disbelieve the claimed detection?

To begin with, the claim was made anonymously, and by breaking into a closed Internet group run by the SETI League. Anonymous claims of major scientific discoveries are always suspect. Imagine if someone calls you announcing the discovery of a cure for cancer -- a result of some importance -- but refuses to divulge either his name or how he might be contacted. How much credence should one give such claims?

Second, the direction of the signal, EQ Peg, is highly coincidental to put it mildly. Of all the sky where such a signal might originate, it seems remarkable that the claimed detection should be at the coordinates where Project Phoenix had found interference and described it on the Web. This either bespeaks an extremely improbable coincidence or a lack of imagination.

Third, the original scans posted anonymously by Mr. Dore did not have the characteristics of an on-off observation, as they were claimed to be. When this was pointed out, new scans were posted.

Fourth, attempts to confirm the detection by several members of the SETI League failed to turn up the signal. This despite the fact that the signal-to-noise claimed for this detection was a whopping ten thousand.

Fifth, the spectral plots posted on the Web for October 22 and October 23 by Mr. Dore were identical, except for a vertical shift of a few dozen pixels! When this was pointed out, the amateur astronomer claimed that he had, in haste, mistakenly posted the same spectrum twice. However, how does this account for the shift of the data within the plot? Were the manipulations necessary to accomplish this shift also a mistake? According to those who had access to the original postings, the reason offered by Mr. Dore for this strange duplication of plots changed with time.

Sixth, the subsequent confirmation detections claimed by amateur astronomers in Guernsey and in Japan find the signal at different frequencies. Remember: the microwave bands are cluttered with terrestrial interference, and finding signals in these bands is no trick. While observing at Arecibo, we typically had dozens of strong interference signals in every 20 MHz chunk of the microwave spectrum.

Seventh, although Mr. Dore has apparently said that he has confirmation observations of his signal from the Effelsberg 100 m radio telescope in Germany, these do not appear to be true. An e-mail from Dr. Rolf Schwartz, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, states that "the circulated message that the 100 m telescope of the Institute is involved in observations to confirm a SETI signal is WRONG!!!! The Institute is not involved in any SETI projects and is not invited to the [press] conference in London."

Mr. Dore is claiming that the press conference alluded to in Dr. Schwartz's message will be held on Wednesday, 4 November. Apparently someone is offering transportation, as he claims that mysterious black sedans are parked near his house and are following him to work.

In summary, there is no reason to believe that a true, extraterrestrial signal has yet been detected. Nathan Cohen, of Boston University, has looked carefully at the posted signals, and has stated publically his opinion that they constitute a hoax. The president of the SETI League, Dr. Paul Shuch, has published a press release offering a similar view.

It might also benefit readers to note that the announcement of a real SETI signal would proceed quite differently than what's transpired here. First and foremost, there would be no anonymity. Rather, there would be ample descriptions of the signal bandwidth, frequency and drift. There would be immediate confirmation efforts at major radio observatories, and no need for ex-post-facto explanations of contradictory postings.

Are the extraterrestrials out there? Needless to say, researchers at the SETI Institute certainly believe so. Do we wish to find evidence of their existence? Of course. Has someone already done that? We don't think so.

Dr. Seth Shostak,
SETI Institute

Pictures of SETI Signals from unknown engineer in the UK

October 29, 1998


BBC News Sci/Tech reported that the scientific world is buzzing with the suggestion that signals from aliens living in another star system may have been picked up by a part-time astronomer.

On October 22 and on the following night an engineer working for a major telecommunications firm in england reported detecting signals from the EQ Pegasi star system which is 22 light years away.

This is said to be the observed signal:

Follow-up observations are said to have begun at other observatories. It seems likely however that the 'alien' signals are just man-made interference.

Carl Koppeschaar

This signal is not an ETI signal. It is--or mimics-- a constant amplitude carrier (which FM's either because of Doppler shifts or modulation) with sidebands. The proximity of sidebands in frequency discludes this as an efficient use of power. An intelligent civilization will maximize the power at all costs to assure detectability with the severe path loss of cosmic distances.

The 'off' position fails to show a decrease and increase in amplitude characteristic of slewing, ergo the On/OFF is not as claimed. There are about 5 other major flaws in the data which disqualifies it. Most importantly, it has NOT been independently confirmed. The amateur SETI stations--a few of which are impressive in quality and technicality although small in aperture-- have enough directivity to detect the signal, albeit at lower amplitude. The signal is not there. This mysterious EU observatory wreaks of non-existence. Also, few sites are capable of narrow band detection as required here. Bologna is the one that comes to mind.

If indeed, the signal was not a fabrication of data, it is most probably a satellite of human origin.

Nathan Cohen, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Applied Science
Boston University

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