SETI is listening for messages of extra-terrestrial origin. This article talks about a candidate signal Russian astronomers received over a year ago but that only recently came to light. There was no independent confirmation of the signal at the time, and current observations focused on HD 164595, the apparent source of the signal in question, are apparently not yielding any results. This prompts my question:

What is protocol related to the detection/confirmation of an extra-terrestrial signal? Let's imagine that a signal is detected and subsequently confirmed as of extra-terrestrial and artificial origin - source location is beyond our solar system, signal composition cannot be explained by any natural phenomenon. For lack of a better example, let's say its primary feature is just like that depicted in Carl Sagan's "Contact" - streams of pulses enumerating prime numbers.

What happens next? Is there full public disclosure? Is such disclosure relied upon to decode the signal (assume the signal has secondary features which suggest the presence of an actual message)? Is disclosure avoided? Is public disclosure made upon detection, prior to confirmation? Is there even a protocol in place?

The story with the Russian detection seems to suggest that an opportunity for confirmation was lost because of a lack of even limited disclosure. What would happen upon a detection event by SETI or some other scientific agency such as a university?

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    $\begingroup$ According to MIB the National Enquirer is a primary source for contact verification. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ The "protocol" would probably vary a lot depending on what organization/nation detected the signal. The NSA? The North Koreans? Cal Tech? I do not think there is some kind of overriding global law or policy that governs this. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I've edited my question - limit to scientific agencies like universities. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 3:34

2 Answers 2


SETI has published "a" protocol for efforts under their banner, but isn't something that can be enforced on other organizations.

Even that protocol is vague in many many areas (doesn't seem to suggest timeframes for example), but it does give a framework for how the followup could proceed.


Since enforcement of any organization's particular protocol on anyone else is next to impossible, there is a good chance that an organization involved in this area of research has its own public as well as a private version of protocol for disclosure. But anyone's path to disclosure probably would depend heavily on the content of the message, it's intent, the requests the message made, its perceived impact on society, its perceived impact on religion, etc., and no doubt depends heavily on whether the organization is a military, governmental, scientific or profit-oriented one.


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