Scots scientists set new scale for alien contact

The Rio scale is used by astronomers searching for extraterrestrial intelligence  and gives a score between zero and ten. Picture: contributed
The Rio scale is used by astronomers searching for extraterrestrial intelligence and gives a score between zero and ten. Picture: contributed
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Scottish scientists have revisited the grading scale of space signals coming from extra-terrestrials.

A team of international researchers, led by researchers from the University of St Andrews and the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California, are redefining the Rio Scale – the alien detection scale.

Developed in 2001, the Scale is a tool used by astronomers searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and gives a score between zero and ten, so that the public can quickly see how important a signal really is.

The revision aims to bring consensus across academic disciplines, when classifying signals potentially indicating the existence of advanced extraterrestrial life.

The scale measures the consequences for humans if the signal is from aliens, as well as the probability that the signal really is from aliens and not a natural phenomenon or human-made.

Lead researcher Dr Duncan Forgan, from the university’s centre for exoplanet science, said: “It’s absolutely crucial that when we talk about something so hugely significant as the discovery of intelligent life beyond the Earth, we do it clearly and carefully.

Dr Forgan added: “Having Rio 2.0 allows us to rank a signal quickly in a way that the general public can easily understand, and helps us keep their trust in a world filled with fake news.”

The new Rio Scale has now been submitted to the International Academy of Astronautics Permanent Committee on SETI for official ratification.

Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI Institute, which is a key contractor to Nasa and the National Science Foundation, said: “The whole world knows about the Richter Scale for quantifying the severity of an earthquake; that number is reported immediately following a quake and subsequently refined as more data are consolidated.

“The SETI community is attempting to create a scale that can accompany reports of any claims of the detection of extraterrestrial intelligence and be refined over time as more data become available.

“This scale should convey both the significance and credibility of the claimed detection.

“Rio 2.0 is an attempt to update the scale to make it more useful and compatible with current modes of information dissemination, as well as providing means for the public to become familiar with the scale.”

The new Rio Scale has now been submitted to the International Academy of Astronautics Permanent Committee on SETI for official ratification.