National Geographic

Arecibo Observatory Detects Mysterious, Energetic Radio Burst

A brief, blazing burst of radio waves detected by the Arecibo Observatory could herald a turning of the tide for a peculiar class of cosmic signals. Until recently, the signals had only ever been detected by a telescope in Australia, a pattern that fueled doubts about their origin.

Fewer than a dozen of these bursts, lasting for only a few thousandths of a second, have ever been reported. Called “fast radio bursts,” the signals are cosmic enigmas that appear to come from the very, very distant universe. But since the first burst discovery in 2007, scientists have not only wondered what kind of cosmic object could produce such a tremendously bright, short-lived radio pulse – but have disagreed about whether the bursts are even celestial.

“There are more theories than there are bursts,” says West Virginia University astronomer Duncan Lorimer, an author on the paper describing the burst, posted to the arXiv on April 10.

On November 2, 2012, a blast of radio waves collided with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, where the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope lives. Rain or shine, day or night, the 305-meter dish collects radio waves from the cosmos, which are then processed into data for scientists to study.

The data gathered at 6:35 am UT revealed a massive, 3-millisecond spike. Unlike the radio blasts emitted by some pulsars, the burst did not recur. It briefly blazed and then disappeared. Called FRB 121102, the burst was very similar to six earlier events that constitute the entire reported population of ultrafast radio bursts – a population that until November 2012 had only been seen by one telescope, in Australia.

But transience is only part of what makes these signals so weird. Their chief peculiarity lies in just how dang far away they seem to be.

Normally, radio waves travel at the speed of light. This means that all the different wavelengths and frequencies of radio waves emitted by the same object – say, a pulsar – should arrive on Earth in one big batch.

But if something is sufficiently far away, that changes. Longer, lower frequency waves traveling through the cosmos have a trickier time getting to Earth. Clouds of ionized interstellar particles – electrons, primarily – form roadblocks that slow and redirect these longer waves, causing them to follow a more sinuous path. As a result, the longer waves arrive just a bit later than their shorter kin – sometimes, the difference is only a fraction of a second.

That delay in arrival times is called “dispersion,” and it lets astronomers estimate how far away the waves are coming from. The longer the delay, the more intergalactic junk that got in the way. And since scientists think they know how much junk there is, they can use the dispersion measurement to approximate a distance, or at least identify whether an object lives inside or outside the Milky Way.

If astronomers are interpreting the bursts’ dispersion measures correctly, then the bursts came from billions and billions of light-years away – in other words, they’re nowhere near our cosmic neighborhood. And nobody knows what they are.

“The sources of the bursts are undoubtedly exotic by normal standards,” Cornell University astronomer Jim Cordes wrote in Science.

The ultrafast pulses take their name from Lorimer, who spotted and described the first burst in 2007. That mysterious signal, estimated to have traveled roughly 3 billion light-years before colliding with Earth, stunned astronomers. Many of them questioned whether it was an artifact produced by the telescope that detected it, the Parkes Observatory’s 64-meter telescope in Australia.

Site of the first burst found, in 2007. Lorimer et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Site of the first burst found, in 2007. Lorimer et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF)

In the years after the discovery, skepticism grew. A new class of terrestrial radio bursts detected by the Parkes telescope in 2010 cast more doubt on the original Lorimer burst. Those Earth-based signals, called perytons, opened the door to the possibility that even if real, the original burst was actually coming from much closer to home.

Another Parkes-detected burst, reported in 2012, didn’t do much to alleviate doubts.

But that summer, a third Lorimer burst was described at the International Astronomical Union’s general assembly in Beijing, China; as it turned out, this burst would be one member of a quartet that astronomers would announce the next year in Science. By the end of July, 2013, the total reported stood at six.

“The discovery of fast radio bursts at the Parkes Observatory, if confirmed at other observatories, would be a monumental discovery, comparable to that of cosmological gamma-ray bursts and even pulsars,” Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astronomer at Caltech, told Scientific American at the time.

Strength in numbers was helping the bursts achieve legitimacy, but there was no escaping that they’d all been detected by the same telescope. And until another observatory saw something similar, skeptics could easily question whether the signals were a product of the telescope and its location, rather than the cosmos.

“In fairness, it’s not a bad question to ask at all,” Lorimer says. “Whenever you make a new discovery, it’s very important to have it confirmed by different groups, using different equipment.”

Now, the Arecibo detection of FRB 121102 strongly suggests the signals are not a Parkes artifact, and furthermore, that they’re not terrestrial in origin.

“I’m certainly very excited to see such a convincing result from another team using a different observatory,” says astronomer Michael Keith of the University of Manchester, who was not involved in the current study.

So the questions astronomers are asking are: How far have the bursts traveled? And what, exactly, are they?

“My hunch has always been that they’re extragalactic,” Lorimer says. “But that’s really nothing more than a hypothesis at this point.”

Overall, the dispersion measures do seem to suggest an extragalactic origin. There are many more electrons between Earth and the bursts than can be explained by the Milky Way’s interstellar electrons; but it’s still possible that intervening nebulas could be clouding the measurement, Kulkarni says. He suggests the signals could be coming from spinning neutron stars known as radio rotating transients, or RRATs, that live in our galaxy and also emit a single pulse.

Because the signals are so brief and bright, they must be coming from a rather dense source, says astronomer Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “That means a compact object – i.e., a neutron star or a black hole – is likely somehow to blame,” he says.

Just what that compact object is has yet to be explained. One theory suggests that giant flares erupting from highly magnetic neutron stars, known as magnetars, cause the bursts. Others suggest the bursts result from colliding neutron stars or black holes, evaporating primordial black holes, large magnetic stars, or are the death spasms produced when massive, slowly spinning neutron stars collapse into black holes. That last object, proposed in 2013, is known as a blitzar.

More observations should help teams pinpoint the bursts’ origin. Already, more detections from Parkes are coming down the pipeline, and Ransom says he’s looking through the Green Bank Telescope’s data for similar signals. But what astronomers are really hoping for is a way to find the bursts in real-time – then, they might be able to identify an optical source, like a host galaxy. In addition to supporting an extragalactic origin, that would also allow scientists to use the bursts to probe the characteristics of the intervening intergalactic medium and its ions.

“We really need to get their precise positions,” Ransom says. “That will let us see where they originate – hopefully in or near other galaxies where we can get their distances.”

The radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is helping solve a cosmic mystery. (Nadia Drake)

The radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is helping solve a cosmic mystery. (Nadia Drake)

There are 59 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Ben Thum
    April 20, 2014

    Wow. I have a feeling something important has happened here – but what? And how can it be applied to my life? All of human endeavor, according to the philosopher Jerry Seinfeld, is basically having something to do. Nice job, guys.

  2. Dwayne LaGrou
    April 20, 2014

    Could it possibly be another sentient species sending out a Galactic “Hello” to see if anyone else is here!? Maybe!!

  3. Randy Richards
    April 21, 2014

    The article seems to go out of its way not to specifically mention the possibility that the bursts are created by another intelligence species. I agree that that’s the least likely source, but you would think it would at least be mentioned. :-)
    (ND: Hi Randy! Please see the comment just posted)

  4. Frank Drake
    April 21, 2014

    Indeed, as suggested by LaGrou, it is a worthy speculation that the FRBs might be a “hailing” message from a distant altruistic civilization. For many years, SETI scientists have speculated about the possible design of a hailing signal — a signal which announces loudly the existence of another civilization, and possibly leads the receiving civilization to a radio channel bearing much information. Without knowing which stars might be the home of other intelligent civilizations, the sending civilization might well adopt a strategy of sending hailing signals to large numbers of potential ETI-supporting stars. To achieve maximum probability of discovery, the right strategy is to send a very narrow-beam, powerful signal. In this case, one can send to only one star at a time, and so the strategy leads to a paradigm in which the transmitting beam is steered to a large number of stars sequentially, leading to the signals being detected possibly as short bursts which may repeat after some long time period. So we should search for more FRBs!

  5. Sachi Mohanty
    April 21, 2014

    Now that the comments have touched upon the possibility of an ETI-origin of the bursts, I guess it’s okay to admit that I had the same thoughts about the source of these radio transmissions.

    But probably a natural source will be found soon enough and the usual laws of physics will explain this.

    But yeah, the idea or the possibility that there might be intelligent civilizations billions of light years away transmitting radio signals to broadcast their existence seems pretty cool.

  6. Francesco Mazzotta
    April 21, 2014

    Searching and finding other civilisations surely sounds like a possibility, albeit slim – however probability of actually establishing a communication sounds near to impossible as the difference in technological development could be really astronomical.

  7. Sk
    April 21, 2014

    A signal that’s billions of light years away is a) not from our galaxy b) less likely to be from an intelligent civilization and one in another galaxy far far away..

    What is this? Star Wars?

  8. Jonathan Brookes
    April 21, 2014

    Any data encoded in this burst? Would expect something if E.T.I.

  9. Will Walker
    April 21, 2014

    We would learn a terrible truth about the nature of intelligence if, upon decoding, the burst were found to contain nothing but funny pictures of cats and an advertisement for on-burst dating services.

  10. zebonaut
    April 21, 2014

    If the signal was indeed a hailing beam from a distant altruistic civilization; it would be expected to repeat at some precise interval. What is that interval? It must be some standard astronomical time interval. Some time interval in the cosmos; that is a standard, that all civilizations could agree upon. What is such a mutually agreed upon time interval in astronomy?

  11. Frank Drake
    April 21, 2014

    In response to zebonaut, there are no mutually agreed time intervals in astronomy. All the reasonable time intervals, based on such intervals as the day, the year, the second, the hour, are arbitrary artifacts of our own situation, with no basis in any universal cosmic phenomenon. When we grope for a universal standard time interval, as we did with the Pioneer plaques and the Voyager record, all we came up with was the period associated with the frequency of prominent spectral lines, such as the hyperfine line of hydrogen at 1420 Mhz. The associated time interval is of the order of a nanosecond, not very useful in attempting to establish any defensible unit of macrotime which would be useful in timing radio transmissions.

  12. Eu
    April 21, 2014

    You cannot magnatism without electricity, yet there is no consideration of an electrical event?

  13. May Berry
    April 21, 2014

    It’s a podcast. We need to figure out how to listen to it.

  14. Mikels Skele
    April 21, 2014

    If this comes from an ETI, it was sent billions of years ago, and any answer we might send would take another similar length of time to arrive there, wherever “there” is now. Not very helpful in terms of communication, is it?

  15. Dave Rosselle
    April 21, 2014

    Easy enought to confirm if it’s a signal from E.T. Just send a similar signal in the direction of the burst and wait 6 billion years for a reply.

  16. Ray Daniels
    April 21, 2014

    Amazing detections that provides an ever closer understanding of the Universe, from those charged with this tsk, takes us possibly to a new level . This is an excellent discovery.

  17. Paul Drake
    April 22, 2014

    Much as I’d like to think it’s a signal from an ETI, the sheer distance involved would mean that a) there’s no practical way to “answer” it, and b) the power requirements at the source would have to have been (pardon the pun) astronomical. I think our best bet will be to concentrate on repeating signals, especially those in a pattern that would flag them as not being naturally generated.

  18. Saul
    April 22, 2014

    So if I am correct in my assumptions these signals would be billions of light years away? Whatever made them (if ET) then they are way gone by now unless there is an Intergalactic Federation out there somewhere.

  19. Deirdre Hebert
    April 22, 2014

    There are some significant reasons to not even suspect that this signal is from some sort of intelligence:
    1: If it were an actual message, it would repeat. At just 3 milliseconds, and sent only once, it’s too short to be of practical use as some sort of beacon without repeating.
    2: The power necessary to send such a signal Billions of light-years suggests a natural phenomenon. It’s a bit unreasonable to think that someone would use the power of a neutron star collapsing into a black hole just to say “hi there”, to beings they don’t even know exist.

    It’s possible that this phenomenon might be an artifact of some sort of technology. It’s possible that the dispersion is due to some aspect of physics that we don’t yet understand. Who knows – yet – how radio waves behave as they travel through some sort of warp field – as is being investigated by Harold White at NASA.

    I wholeheartedly suspect that we aren’t alone in the universe, but I expect that those who wish to gain our attention would use something more than a 3 ms pulse at random and infrequent times to do so.

  20. Monkay Moni
    April 22, 2014

    I think its just a broadcast of Ozzy Osbourne’s crazy train played in reverse….

  21. ace
    April 22, 2014

    I feel the rush!’ but the reality is that every time there is a plausibility of a contact you have to go at the speed of the ciaos of space .

  22. A
    April 22, 2014

    This event may not be (probably is not) of ETI origin but the method seems reasonable. Use high power, low duration to try to avoid harming civilizations that have only just discovered radio. Hide the actual message to some extent to limit the recipients to some minimum level of intelligence and tech. Personally, I hope it is a signal and that at some point we “get” it.

  23. TVrepairman
    April 22, 2014

    It’s obviously a super intelligent extra terrestrial species phoning around to see who’s alive and listening. This was just the ringing tone. They are obviously very busy people, er, aliens, though, so they don’t let it ring for long before hanging up.

    Next time you get a call will you PLEASE just pick up and respond… Sigh… I have to tell my children the same thing, but I’d expect better from those smart guys at Arecibo…

  24. Avattoir
    April 23, 2014

    Are we really being imaginative when most ideas posted in comments are derivations, or even lifts and clean steals from commercial movies (like Contact from 1997, which to me seems so much better match than ET, I hardly believe it’s taken to this point to get mentioned)?

    Isn’t the search to determine the cause of the “brief … bright” signal already a heaven of a lot more interesting than attributing it to some extra-galactic social species EG-marshalling electromagnetic powers to an extent substantially beyond the technological and organizational capacities of this planet’s entire biosphere?

  25. Ed Rybicki
    April 23, 2014

    “The Wow! Signal is finally decoded. It says: “Is your xvvvdrt4hator running? Well, you’d better run after it then”. Other interpretations are still being explored.”

  26. Kalifornija
    April 23, 2014

    I think this is “huge” data burst. Alien race pack huge data transmission in just 3 milliseconds. They use some special technology to ‘pack’ data in such short radio transmission. We have to find way to ‘extract’ those data.

  27. Serbia
    April 23, 2014

    I think it might be weapon. Some advance race might use huge radio wave burst as a weapon.

  28. death star
    April 24, 2014

    thats just their targetting system locking on

  29. Terry
    April 24, 2014

    once they are able to break the data down…someone is going to say…Wait a minute..theres a lot more here folks…it might be the opening of the Hunger games.

  30. jmx
    April 24, 2014

    Going along with a previous comment, it would be interesting if the pulse was the effect of a large scale alien weapon. One can only imagine advanced civilizations using weapons of last resort which detonate star systems in milliseconds. The effect and impact literally echoing across space-time for a billion years. Sadly, we’ll never know conclusively either way.

  31. Anthony T. Simone
    April 24, 2014

    It is very obvious what those bursts are and how and why they arrived. but, I must give others a chance at this. Space as we know and understand it, does not in reality, exist. Once you think in those terms, the answer is not far behind. Enjoy.

  32. Anthony T. Simone
    April 24, 2014

    Update: It is important to know that Einstein’s Theory has expired. It was relevant when it was current. From this point on, things changed. It does not apply. From a Scientific perspective, todays wonders are more technologically based. All previous conclusions of Laws of the Universe, are Mute. Open your eyes and minds to what is occurring everywhere.

  33. sara
    April 24, 2014

    Every time an Angel gets its wings?

  34. TOM
    April 24, 2014

    Perhaps it’s a compressed signal containing the history of their civilization. Or not. If the signals are intelligent, they are probably long extinct.

  35. Htos1
    April 24, 2014

    If there were encoded data in the stream, that all entities in our 2D, linear experince can agree upon, would be the hydrogen or gold atomic structure.

  36. Martha
    April 24, 2014

    The speculation that “intelligent life out there” would be the least bit interested or concerned about communicating with mankind answers the question of its existence…NO… there cannot be, since it would the the dumbest and most unintelligent waste of time and energy to finally find the life on this planet in its current state of existence….can you imagine…the disappointment…..it would indicate that the “life out there” is dumber than mankind….

  37. Claudia Aguilar
    April 25, 2014

    Please NatGeo could you check as the source of the radio burst the points you sent the twits of the Wow Signal? I sent the location of Arecibo that day… https://twitter.com/ClaudiaBlogger/status/218904505943719938

    And by the way also the recent planet Kepler-186f

  38. Carl
    April 25, 2014

    Wait a minute. This signal came from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?Its just the EMP from the death star exploding. Good work Luke.

  39. Vince
    April 26, 2014

    Has anyone been able to stretch the pulse and see if it contains any data?

    • Jonathan Brookes
      April 26, 2014

      It may be only 3 mSec duration, but what about its bandwidth? What’s the spectral analysis? That would be the start of determining how to decode.

      • Vince
        April 26, 2014

        I’m still thinking a burst transmission. I wonder how one would go about getting a copy of the signal for investigation.

  40. Anton Szautner
    April 26, 2014

    Dispersion due to great distance is still an assumption to be confirmed. The relevant wavelength features involved may be due to other factors that could mimic post-generation dispersion: for example, intense magnetic fields with a sufficiently high population of entrained electrons at or near the source itself could conceivably turn the trick. If so, the power requirements would be significantly alleviated if the sources are within the Milky Way. Neutron stars in the form of pulsars or magnetars are already well known to exhibit a rich and diverse range of behaviors and may still be considered good candidates for Lorimer Bursts if they lie within our galaxy.

    Whether from intergalactic or interstellar distances, however, the power involved in either case is impressive and, together with their very brief nature, it would strongly suggest some mechanism involving a compact object as Ransom and Kulkarni point out. If these Lorimer Bursts turn out to come from billions of light-years away, the power requirements posed might have to rely on some form of beaming, such as is thought to attend Gamma Ray Bursts. (That would also implicate high spin to compact massive object candidate list). Since Lorimer Bursts are apparently much rarer than GRBs, which happen much more frequently (on average, nearly daily) it may be some time before an unambiguous correlation with a specific GRB may be established.

    BTW, the obsession dominating this thread in the possibility of these bursts being beacon signals from extraterrestrial technologies is, frankly, ridiculous, and not even remotely plausible as a hypothesis. Why would an intelligent technology expend an amount of energy comparable to the complete annihilation of a Jupiter-mass to send a one-time signal that in all probability would destroy not only the transmitter but the civilization’s home planetary system? Communicating the single message “WE’RE HERE!” whilst committing suicide in a burst only microseconds long that is hard to pinpoint is as preposterous as the breathless speculation on it is idiotic. Sheesh.

    • Vince
      April 26, 2014

      Anton,

      I just read a paper that said that a sufficiently advanced civilization would be able to harness the energy of planets and stars in their own galaxy. What difference would one jupiter mass planet be to them except a giant source of energy.

      • Anton Szautner
        April 26, 2014

        Well, then you’ve read a paper describing an idea that’s been around since 1964 (see ‘Kardeshev scale’:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale )

        Ostensibly, yes, of course, any sufficiently advanced technology might harness vast amounts of energy for purposes we may not dream of. But just because the capability may exist doesn’t mean such a civilization would employ such energies to produce such a colossally clumsy and inefficient signal. Why would they do that when they could communicate with each other or send forth beacon signals for emergent technologies such as ours to notice far more efficiently using far less energy?

        As pointed out by Frank Drake above, powerful highly-collimated beams transmitted as beacons between relatively nearby galaxies is indeed an excellent strategy – by many measures, perhaps the most effective and efficient way to alert emergent civilizations to their presence. Advanced ETIs in the Andromeda galaxy, for example, may be assured of a higher rates of success in being noticed by emergent recipients in the Milky Way (like us) and vice versa. The amount of time required for a response to get back to them, followed by an acknowledgment and potentially a continuous beamed transmission thereafter containing an unimaginable wealth of information including the locations of our nearest ETI neighbors within OUR galaxy is a long-term strain for newbies like us – a matter of several million years in waiting – but it could mean hitting the jackpot. The acknowledgement could suddenly deliver us the locations and dispositions of ALL known ETIs in BOTH systems (at least, as of the latest transmission, ‘only’ those several million years old – a relative blink of the cosmic eye). It could conceivably even contain detailed star-by-star information on the evolutionary history of our galaxy stretching back to before our own Solar System formed. Its only a question of how quickly the earliest pioneering ETIs in galaxies were able to begin collecting and storing data that they would increasingly share as more ETIs emerged.

        Indeed, in this way a stupendous compendium of information exchanged between galaxies very much further afield stretching hundreds of millions or even billions of light-years across the universe may already have been established in a kind of cosmic internetwork that would make our current expectations of an interstellar-scale network confined to single galaxy like ours so parochially myopic as to be pathetically medieval in scope. Even so, the best chance of ETIs within a given galaxy of discovering each other’s existence and whereabouts may ironically come from neighbor galaxies that have already established mutual connection. There may have been ample time over the 13.8 billion-year-history of the universe for life, intelligence and something like such an intergalactic communications network to have been established. The potential implications are beyond our puny powers of comprehension.

        I have long advocated that it would be far more practical to stare at M31 or M33 (or even the Magellanic Clouds) in a dedicated multi-wavelength observing campaign for signals aimed from them at our galaxy than it is to severely dilute our efforts by conducting star-by-star or near-all-sky searches of our own galaxy with relatively little chance of intercepting signal pathways that would in all likelihood be specifically narrow-beamed between known (to them) ETIs. Long-term dedicated monitoring of M31 should not be limited to radio: lasers at microwave, infrared or visible wavelengths are ideal means of beaming signals, and considerably more efficient than broadcasting haphazardly in every direction with most of the signal wafting out uselessly between the stars. Consider that the Milky Way from Andromeda subtends only a few degrees – a very convenient compact target upon which ALL the energy of a narrow beam transmission may be efficiently directed. We should not be dissuaded by the 2.5 million light-year distance either: the beacon itself could already carry a constant stream of information regarding the locations of our nearby neighbors within our Milky Way. The power requirements are within the province of the proverbial ‘sufficiently advanced technology’ we like to imagine.

        But transmissions over distances much above the average separation between galaxies is not just uselessly redundant but defeats the purpose of the strategy, which is only to establish contact with emergent ETIs (like ours) and get them connected to the network to benefit from a vast storehouse of knowledge with the least expenditure of energy with the greatest chance of success. Lorimer Bursts that have apparent dispersion features that look like they come from potentially vast billion-light-year-plus distances don’t at all resemble what ETIs would do to call attention to themselves. To generate such a signal with such stupendous power levels in order to serve as a beacon would be to impute to advanced technologies a stupidity that surpasses ours.

        No. Lorimer Bursts are interesting and amazing enough as the mysterious astrophysical phenomenon they almost certainly are, not because of any speculative prospect of a link to communicative ETIs.

        • Vince
          April 27, 2014

          Anton,

          Wouldn’t the highly powerful collimated beam be limited to the speed of light and therefore still take millions of years to send and receive a message? Unless the civilization somehow can curve space time, any communication might arrive long after the correspondent civilizations have expired.

          Isn’t there also a school of thought that evidence indicating that pulsar sky positions are nonrandomly distributed in a pattern that is not easily attributed to natural causes. As one example, between l ~ 32° to l ~ 57°, the number of pulsars progressively rises with increasing longitude until at the northern one-radian longitude point (l = 57.24°) their concentration drops precipitously by almost three fold, as if to mark this location. Compared with lower galactic longitudes, much of the higher pulsar population at these longitudes may be from observational bias due to the greater sensitivity of the Arecibo telescope, which has surveyed l ~ 39° to l ~ 69°. However, the progressive rise from l ~ 39° to l ~ 57° and abrupt drop off at this one-radian longitude cannot be attributed to such selection effects since it occurs at longitudes that lie well within the region covered by the Arecibo survey. On the other hand, if pulsars are ETI communication beacons, an obvious choice as a topic for communication would be to indicate the termination point of a one radian arc deviation from the Galactic center since such a geometrically unique off-center viewer-dependent location is not preferred by any natural process. Moreover designating this longitude indicates to us that the senders know the sky location of the Galactic center as seen from our vantage point, and hence that they intend their beamed message specifically for our particular Galactic locale.

          Vince

          • Anton Szautner
            April 27, 2014

            Vince, I’ll field your points one at a time:

            V: “Wouldn’t the highly powerful collimated beam be limited to the speed of light…”

            A: Yes, but that natural limit isn’t the necessarily devastating barrier people popularly fret over.

            V: “…and therefore still take millions of years to send and receive a message?

            A: There is a gigantic difference between acquiring useful if not inconceivably valuable information unsolicited even though it might have been millions of years in transit, and the procedure we identify as communication involving the reception of a particular answer to a specific query. One doesn’t have to wait at all to receive information containing answers to questions that have already been anticipated. Moreover, even in the naive scenario in which a Q-and-A campaign is deemed necessary, it would be absurd to wait to ask a second question before receiving the answer to the first. In other words, there is absolutely no reason why a continuous stream of questions should not issue from a babbling youngster once it has discovered a target that might be able to answer it, just as there is absolutely no reason why an advanced ETI should refrain from supplying a continuous flow of general information (yes, I repeat, as part of a ‘beacon’ signal) that any recipients might find useful.

            V: “Unless the civilization somehow can curve space time, any communication might arrive long after the correspondent civilizations have expired.”

            A: There is no such impediment even if one doesn’t invoke technologies based on exotic (so far, to us) physics. It is an absurd myth that the reception of information cannot take place without the tedious to-and-fro of question-and-answer correspondence we are accustomed to as social beings in immediate intimate sensory contact with one another on our familiar scale (and its a myth that such immediate contact improves communication, as experience on the internet as well as on the personal level should rapidly inform any of us). There is nothing whatsoever that prevents information moving at the speed of light from being intercepted, no matter how long ago it set out on its journey, and no matter how brief the prospective lifespan of a potential recipient is. (As I mentioned in my previous response, “the beacon itself could already carry a constant stream of information…”). The suggestion that distance is an impediment to information exchange is like saying we shouldn’t be able to acquire any information that has taken longer to reach us than a given technology has existed to receive it, and therefore we can’t know about any part of, say, the radio-emitting universe farther away than about a hundred light-years. Its nonsense, of course: for example, Penzias and Wilson were perfectly capable of receiving information that took 13.8 billion years to reach their antenna, even though their equipment was barely a decade old. By such faulty reasoning, we shouldn’t be aware of anything so remote as any galaxy external to our own, let alone the Cosmic Microwave Background.

            To put it another way, the naïve notion that communication is challenged by the lack of immediate intercourse is tantamount to saying that books written by long-dead authors do not deliver information to present-day readers. Does anyone really think that writers or artists or poets were hindered in their ‘transmissions to posterity’ because they wouldn’t survive to enjoy the feedback opinions, questions, criticisms or gratifications from far-future generations?

            It also bears reminding that just because information might require millions of years to reach us and would therefore be ‘ancient’ by our standards, it shouldn’t be dismissed as outdated or outmoded: there can have existed ETIs in the universe whose knowledge and technological prowess billions of years ago – even before our planetary system formed – far exceeded anything we can currently contemplate.

            We aren’t the first to invent the wheel. We’re nothing but the new kids on the block, and we have an awful lot to learn in order to survive (or ensure our legacy continues in our better replacements) over the necessary long-term with anything approaching dignity. Listening and testing what we think we know through empirical observation of nature and experimental investigation of how nature works using the scientific method is how its done. We get good answers only when we ask good questions of nature. In a sense, we ARE the ‘aliens’ (as mysterious to ourselves as any ETI) and we’re already engaged in the interview. That is at least as marvelous as contact with an ETI will someday be. Its a shame so many of us take this authentic situation we find ourselves in for granted, and utterly shameless that so many of us choose to bathe themselves in superstition and pseudoscience that purports to deliver ‘alternative ways of knowing’.

            V: “Isn’t there also a school of thought that evidence indicating that pulsar sky positions are nonrandomly distributed in a pattern that is not easily attributed to natural causes. [etc...]”

            A: *Sigh* Not by any ‘school of thought’ that can’t also be characterized as thoroughly crazy crackpottery.

            It is certainly no surprise that pulsars are unevenly distributed in the sky. It would be passingly weird if they were – since that then WOULD indicate they were centered on us! They’re not, though. Their distribution is, in fact, perfectly natural, in accord with the assymmetry one would expect from their association with the stellar population distribution in our galaxy and our peripheral location in its disk. This state of affairs comes about quite naturally out of the fact that we are not located at the center of the galaxy, let alone at the center of the universe.

            In fact, all kinds of objects (like stars, for example) are similarly ‘nonrandomly’ distributed along the Milky Way, with concentrations near the galaxy’s center and a relative dearth of populations above and below the plane as well as in the direction opposite the galaxy’s center. The idea that some advanced agency would position pulsars specifically for our benefit is towering nonsense; to impute a special importance and significance to our location betrays a monumental conceit that can only be matched by the willful ignorance and credulity that supports it.

          • Vince
            April 27, 2014

            Anton,

            Thanks for being patient with me and answering my questions. But the reports on pulsars states that the are non-randomly distributed, not unevenly distributed which I believe makes a difference. They supposition is that the pulsars are possibly navigational beacons, communications devices or markers of some unknown type and purpose. I agree that the idea that some advanced civilization would put the pulsars there for our use is absurd, but what if they have been put there for their use?

          • Anton Szautner
            April 27, 2014

            Vince: “the reports on pulsars states that the are non-randomly distributed, not unevenly distributed which I believe makes a difference.”

            A: I colloquially used the word ‘unevenly’ in its statistical sense, as in a departure from random distribution. But they nevertheless conform to the stellar population density within the galaxy. Saying they’re ‘non-randomly’ distributed is worse than imprecise: its wrong in the implication: their distribution is in fact not expected to be “random”!

            V: “They supposition is that the pulsars are possibly navigational beacons, communications devices or markers of some unknown type and purpose.”

            A: That’s no big trick. We use them for the same KNOWN purpose: for example, the Pioneer 10 and 11 plaques carry a schematic showing our location with respect to bright examples. They also conveniently serve as precise clocks with known positions.

            V: “I agree that the idea that some advanced civilization would put the pulsars there for our use is absurd, but what if they have been put there for their use?”

            A: Why do you think they have to be “put there”? Why can’t they just naturally occur in their positions and be noted? Why shouldn’t advanced ETIs be capable of simple measurements in elementary astrometry?

            One might as well insist that quasars are artificially placed in THEIR positions billions of light-years away by ETIs located in our galaxy for their own benefit and “purpose” as navigational aids. You may be amazed to learn that we use quasars ourselves for that “purpose”. Look it up.

            Perhaps you imagine quasars powered by supermassive black holes undergoing outpourings of radiation – most of them billions of years before the Earth ever even existed – cannot have any purpose other than to serve as navigational aids for a tiny planet’s inhabitants billions of years in the future located halfway across the universe. I hope you don’t start thinking we put them there using time-travel technology in anticipation of our need for them before we acquired the expertise for time travel. That would be way over-the-top preposterous, don’t you think?

  41. Andrew Palfreyman
    April 26, 2014

    Perfectly compressed data looks just like random noise. If this is the case here, we have no way of decoding it.

    • Vince
      April 26, 2014

      Without having a copy of the transmission to investigate we have no real way of knowing what’s in the signal. I would love to have a copy just to check it out.

  42. David kenedy
    April 27, 2014

    More energetic events i wouldntbesurprised if its just a wonky interpretation of something known,quasar,pulsar,novas etc.

  43. Andromeda Cross
    April 27, 2014

    Have we answered the pulses in-turn to the ‘theorized’ location? This could be a beacon which emits radio frequencies searching for an appropriate response.

  44. Andromeda Cross
    April 27, 2014

    Also, has anyone attempted to transcribe this radio frequency into binary?

  45. tony pearce
    April 29, 2014

    how does this signal compare to the 1977 “WOW” signal, has any one commented on that phenomena? Is there any correlation between the signals

  46. Ian
    May 10, 2014

    The comments are fun but are not founded in reality.
    If an emission from a galaxy far away were to take place
    the chances of us reading it is predicated upon it being
    of massive power. Such as the business end of a Gamma ray burst.
    Unless the emission is specifically directed to us it’s power will be
    sapped exponentially. It is highly unlikely an alien source could create
    the power needed to travel this distance and still be detected.

  47. Doug Wagner
    May 10, 2014

    Sounds suspiciously like a space-based weapon being tested.

  48. vonskippy
    May 18, 2014

    They’re warp engine back fires. Pretty much the entire Omega Class series of engines have them. The repair kit is covered under your Universal Extended Warranty (you did buy the warranty didn’t you) – so just take it to your nearest Class 7 or higher dealer and get it fixed.

  49. Ol’ Bob
    May 18, 2014

    Not to worry – it’s just Rush Limbaugh.

  50. hank
    July 15, 2014

    They are scanning for permission to contact, that is all. There is a ways to go yet.

Add Your Comments

All fields required.

Related Posts