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In the popular imagination, a scientist is methodical and rational, working tirelessly and single-mindedly, ignoring repeated failure, all in pursuit of the truth. That’s about as far away from what most people think of when they hear “aliens”: Hollywood, pulp sci-fi novels, and crackpot conspiracy theorists. Which is why 2016 was a pretty strange year, with these worlds colliding in the pages of peer-reviewed journals and the hallways of some of the world’s highest institutions of astronomical study.

In October, two Canadian researchers studied archival data and found rapid bursts of light coming from a group of 234 stars across the sky. Because the researchers couldn’t attribute the bursts to any natural phenomenon, they concluded it might be aliens—that amount of energy could, in theory, indicate something like a radio beacon produced by a sufficiently advanced civilization.

“We have to follow a scientific approach, not an emotional one,” one researcher told New Scientist. “But intuitively—my emotion speaks now—I strongly suspect that it’s an ETI [extra-terrestrial intelligence] signal.”

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