Wednesday, 4 November 1998
Apparent space hoax lures world's scientists
© 1998 The Boston Globe
Scientists around the world have spent the last week scrambling to
respond to an apparent hoax by someone claiming to have picked up a
signal from outer space.
"It has all the earmarks of a hoax" rather than an honest mistake, said
Darren Leigh, a radio astronomer who operates one of the largest such
search efforts in the world today, the BETA project (for
Billion-channel Extra-Terrestrial Assay). Nevertheless, Leigh said, the
84-foot dish of the Oak Ridge Observatory's BETA telescope in Harvard,
Mass., was trained on the region of the sky where the signal had been
claimed, just to be sure. And no, there's nothing there.
More than 60 other radio dishes, including a large array in Australia
and many owned by amateur astronomers who are members of a group called
the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) League, also
checked out the claims, and none found any evidence of a real signal,
according to the league's director, H. Paul Shuch.
The hoaxer had planned to hold a press conference in England today, but
sent out an e-mail message yesterday - signed Paul Dore - calling off
the press conference and claiming that the signal was in fact coming
from a secret spy satellite.
In the message, posted on an Internet site, the hoaxer claims he was
visited at home yesterday by British and U.S. intelligence officials,
who made him sign a "security oath" forbidding him to reveal details
they shared with him.
That story is absurd on its face, Shuch said. Signals from secret spy
satellites are routinely picked up by SETI searches, he said, and
widely reported as such. Since all such transmissions are presumably
highly encrypted, nobody could get any real information this way
anyway, and there would be no reason for intelligence officials to be
concerned - and they never have been.
A Harvard group is a leader in the search for extra-terrestrial