SETI League headquarters has for the past few weeks been receiving inquiries about reports of radio emissions emanating from an Earth-sized artificial satellite allegedly shadowing Comet Hale-Bopp. These reports appear to originate from a popular late-night radio talk show hosted by Art Bell, a ham radio operator well known for his support of conspiracy theories and paranormal claims. Though all the facts are not yet clear, we have found no solid evidence to support those claims.
The existence of the artificial object is reported to be supported by photographs by a reputable astronomer who has yet to identify himself, but who sent copies of the photos to Art Bell. Its size (last reported to me as three times the Earth's diameter) is apparently inferred from the brightness of Hale-Bopp, which allegedly should not be as visible as it is based upon its distance from the Earth. As yet, no optical astronomer who I know has found anything remarkable about the comet's apparent brightness.
My response to those who've touted the artificial satellite theory has been that if this object is as large as claimed, it should very soon be the brightest object in the night sky, and would exert very measurable gravitational forces not only on the comet, but on the Earth and other planets as well. I've been told that the lack of tidal effects is attributable to the object's being hollow. When asked what evidence exists to support this claim, the answer is "the object's lack of gravitational interaction with Earth." Such circular reasoning, it seems to me, flies in the face of the scientific method.
As for the alleged radio signals, I have been unable to locate anyone who has actually received them. What's more, Bell's Web Site has failed to mention the frequency, bandwidth, modulation mode, signal strength, temporal characteristics, or any other information about these signals which would permit us to verify their existence. It seems to me if such signals really exist, their proponents would be anxious to pass along such information to The SETI League, so our 24 active Project Argus stations could verify them. We certainly have the equipment, expertise, and sensitivity (proven by several of our members' successful reception of test signals from the Mars Global Surveyor satellite's low-power beacon five million km from Earth).
We in SETI would like nothing more than for these claims to be true, and verifiable. But faith alone is not proof. If anyone will just tell us what frequency to search, we can readily resolve this controversy. Until then, I am inclined to regard as specious all claims about this artificial object.
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this page last updated 4 January 2003
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