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Astronomers at the SETI@Home project have spoken up to dismiss suggestions that the project intercepted signals from an alien civilisation.

Reports spread across the net yesterday and today after New Scientist said that an "interesting" signal had been picked up by the huge radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

The magazine quoted Dan Wertheimer, the chief scientist on the SETI@Home project, as saying that the signal was the most interesting yet identified by the project. He remarked: "We're not jumping up and down, but we are continuing to observe it."

Despite the otherwise sceptical tone of the article, his comments sparked speculation that we had actually made contact with another world. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case, and Wertheimer told ther BBC today that the idea of contact was "all hype and noise". "We have nothing that is unusual. It's all out of proportion," he said.

So the armies of the world can stand down - it was all a false alarm. There are no aliens trying to contact or destroy us, and we can all relax again. Phew.

The signal in question is dubbed SHGb02+14a, and has a frequency of about 1420 megahertz. This is also one of the main absorption frequencies of hydrogen. It is also the alien hunters' favourite place to go looking for deliberate signals from extra terrestrial civilisations.

The signal has only been observed on three occasions for about a minute each time. This is not really long enough for it to be analysed properly, scientists say, which means there are plenty of possible explanations for it.

Even discounting the suggestion that it is evidence of some natural phenomenon, scientists cannot rule out ground based interference, or the possibility that someone has hacked the SETI@Home program. ®

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